Historic Structures

Old St. Elizabeth Hospital, Baker Oregon

Date added: November 15, 2022 Categories: Oregon Hospital Jacobean

The old St. Elizabeth Hospital, located at Fourth and Madison streets in Baker, Oregon, is one of a group of prominent civic and religious buildings constructed of tuff during Baker's early growth period. Baker was a diocesan headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church beginning in 1903. St. Francis Cathedral and rectory are among the local landmarks constructed of the indigenous volcanic rock, as are City Hall, the Baker County Courthouse, the Carnegie Library, and Elks Temple.

The hospital was maintained by the Sisters of St. Francis from 1897 onward. When the Sisters' new St. Elizabeth Hospital opened in 1915, it was the largest and the best-equipped medical facility in the district. It held on to that distinction, keeping pace with community growth by expansion, the first in 1921, and again in 1940 when a separate building of concrete construction was added to the northwest corner of the block to house the nursing school and convent. In 1970 the Sisters of the Order of St. Francis built a modern, single-level community hospital elsewhere in the city, and old St. Elizabeth's was converted to use as a nursing home operated under the Sisters' auspices. In 1987 the diocesan seat was removed from Baker, and the hospital/nursing home was vacated.

The Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia entered the missionary field in the West in 1885 upon opening an academy at Baker City, Oregon. Their school filled the gap left by the closure in the preceding year of the academy which had been established by the Sisters of the Holy Names in 1875.

In 1897 the Sisters of St. Francis opened a two-and-one-half-story hospital building in the Stick Style at Second and Church streets in Baker. It was replaced by this building in 1915 and is no longer extant.

The cornerstone of the new hospital building, designed for durability in fire-resistant brick and indigenous stone, was laid on July 28, 1912, with a solemn ceremony. The significance of the event to the local populace was indicated by a crowd of some 1,000 onlookers made up not only of Baker citizens, but delegations from La Grande, Huntington, and other neighboring towns. The prevailing tone of the occasion, as reported in local papers, was one of pride that the citizenry would be afforded a well-equipped modern hospital facility. The Most Reverend C. J. O'Reilly, Diocesan Bishop of the Roman Catholic Church, declared the hospital would stand "as a monument to Christian charity," a principle for which the Church had always stood, and to which the holy order, the Sisters of St. Francis, was dedicated. Town dignitaries also participated in the exercises.

It appears that while the plans and drawings for the hospital were prepared by architect Michael P. White of Baker City, the architect who supervised construction was Phillip Baillargeon of Seattle, Washington, whose designing engineer was R. C. Heath. It is not known what working relationship the local architect may have had with the Puget Sound men, or whether Baillargeon and Heath may have stepped in to take over the work, but, in any event, it was Baillargeon who assumed the honor of participating in the cornerstone laying ceremony and whose comings and goings were reported in the Baker Weekly Herald. The construction contract was let to L. Monterastelli, a Pendleton contractor, whose low bid was $68,320. Interior work was done under a separate contract.

St. Elizabeth Hospital was a unique charitable institution in Baker and its environs. At the time of its founding in 1897, many of its patients were miners who had been attracted to the gold regions of the Blue Mountains. The miners' hospital expenses were covered by an early form of health insurance based on a contribution of one dollar per year.

In the articles of incorporation, set forth in 1898, the hospital founders declared among their purposes the formation of a training school for nurses. The nursing school was operated from 1911 to 1949 and was the only school of its kind between Boise, Idaho and Pendleton. In the few years before the new hospital was opened, the school was conducted in the lecture room of St. Francis Academy. Local doctors presented the lectures initially. To encourage enrollment in the three-year course, students were given an allowance on an increasing scale based on the length of their training. While fringe benefits were provided, students furnished their own books and uniforms. Between 1914, when the first nurses completed their training, and 1949, the school produced 262 graduates. After the peak enrollment years of the Second World War, the school was consolidated with the St. Anthony School of Nursing in Pendleton.

On its completion in 1915, St. Elizabeth Hospital had a capacity of 50 beds. The capacity was increased to 72 upon the construction of the north rear wing in 1921. It is reported that as early as 1910 the annual total of patients treated at the hospital had exceeded 400, and it was this volume of patient care that was a prime factor in the Sisters' decision to build the new facility. Historically, the hospital provided a significant payroll to local residents. By 1960, the hospital employed 85 to 90 persons, including not only those concerned with patient care; the physicians and nurses, but also janitors, engineers, clerical workers, cooks, technicians, and housekeepers. For many years before 1970, it was the only approved and accredited hospital in Baker. Accreditation was achieved from the United States College of Surgeons in 1932. The laundry section of the hospital, built in 1941, was indicative of the self-sufficiency which the hospital attained in its later years. The laundry supported a sky-walk which connected the hospital to the Sisters' freestanding nursing school and convent, which occupied the northwest corner of the block from 1940 onward. The former nursing school is now an alcohol and drug treatment center. The single-story laundry wing was razed in 1988.

To meet modern standards, the Sisters of St. Francis undertook a building program once again in 1969. In 1970 the new, $2 million-dollar St. Elizabeth Hospital, spreading in one story over an acre of land on Pocahontas Road near its intersection with Highway 30 north of Baker, was opened with an adjoining convent building.

Building Description

Old St. Elizabeth Hospital, located at Fourth and Madison streets in Baker, Oregon, was constructed of quarry-faced, coursed tuff indigenous to the area. Construction commenced in 1912 and was completed about 1915. Three stories in height on a high basement and H-shaped in plan, the hospital expresses on exterior elevations the conventional, stacked, double-loaded corridor configuration which so typified institutional buildings of the period. It measures 163 x 140 feet in its ground plan. The hospital was designed by Baker architect Michael P. White and detailed in the Jacobethan style.

Seattle, Washington architect Phillip Baillargeon appears to have adapted the plans and supervised construction. An unrealized aspect of White's original plan was a balancing north wing which would have made the major entrance pavilion the central volume of a symmetrical composition extending a frontage of 252 feet on Fourth Street. Instead, a three-story addition was erected at the rear end of the entrance wing in 1921. The building is oriented to the east, the legs of the H on an east-west axis. The graded site was excavated for a basement provided with a perimeter window well which is retained with quarry-faced ashlar having a dressed stone coping.

Among exterior features which gave the hospital its Jacobethan flavor were the parapet gables of the major entrance block, the three-story polygonal bay of the central section, and paired, double-hung windows which gave the effect of mullioned fenestration. During a hospital remodeling of 1962, original wood sash were replaced with aluminum windows, but the strong central mullions remain in place, and thus the division of window openings is consistent with the medieval spirit. As is characteristic of eclectic architecture, the medieval elements were mixed with other stylistic embellishments such as a Classical Tuscan portico and Baroque gable niches. Contrasting effectively with the quarry-faced ashlar of the facade are smooth-dressed spandrel panels, coping and string courses. A cross surmounts the parapet gable of the north entry pavilion.

A distinctive, intact feature of the interior is the third-story chapel with its plaster vaulted ceiling and tripartite organization of choir gallery, sanctuary and sacristy. Window openings of the chapel sanctuary, in the north and south faces of the projecting entrance pavilion, have round arch heads. The only other deviation from the general use of trabeated fenestration is a Diocletian window in the face of the grand double staircase serving the main entrance. A third-story picture window in the north face of the south pavilion is a modification of later years to provide more natural light to the surgical room.

In its historic period, the building exterior was distinguished by decorative wrought iron balconies at the corridor exits. Those on the south face remain. During the remodeling of 1962, the corridor exit doors were replaced, and fire escapes were added in place of balconies on all but the south face. In the current rehabilitation for condominiums, the fire escapes have been removed and the non-historic doors replaced with assemblies which re-establish a formal division of the openings. Wrought iron balconies echoing the scale and spirit of the originals have been returned to east and north elevations. The former service entrance on the south elevation has been adapted as a passenger vehicle entrance.

In the mid-1980s, it had been contemplated by the Sisters of St. Francis to renovate the old hospital they had adapted as a nursing home to meet a new level of health care. However, the old building proved to be inefficient for the purpose, and nursing home facilities were constructed as an addition to the relocated hospital in northwest Baker, and occupied in 1987. It was at this time the stained glass windows in the third-story chapel were transferred to the new health care center.

After the Roman Catholic diocesan withdrew from Baker, plans were made for the old hospital's demolition. These plans were deferred as the State of Oregon evaluated the building as a potential prison site. The building was determined ineligible as a prison facility, and the hospital administration again considered demolition.

A local investor negotiated for the building with the intent of developing condominiums. Title to the property passed from the Sisters of St. Francis to the investor in 1988.