During the Fort Lowell Days celebration on February 14, 2015, participants had the opportunity to shuttle across the street to the current home of the Tucson Medical Center to visit the historic buildings on that site.
Between 1880 and 1945, if you had tuberculosis and were wealthy, you probably ended up somewhere out west. According to the Arizona Daily Star, many of Tucson’s zoning regulations were driven by the disease, and the influx of people being treated gave Tucson the population it needed for statehood.
Before antibiotics, the treatment was fresh air, sleep, wholesome food and exercise.
There were three buildings on this tour: the Farness Patio Building, the Erickson Building and the Arizona Building, formerly a nurses’ residence. Three employee/volunteers guided the tour and shared their knowledge.
The vision of Dr. Bernard Wyatt brought us the original version of the complex. Through time, the ownership transferred to the financial backers, Alfred and Anna Erickson of New York.
In the mid-1920s, the resort-style sanatorium served elite clientele with tuberculosis. Patients went to dude ranches, to the Grand Canyon and visited the reservations.
It was the first medical institute in the U.S. to try to cure tuberculosis using the sun’s radiation, known as heliotherapy. It didn’t cure tuberculosis, but people probably felt better being in this climate.
The Farness Patio Building was the research facility. You’ll see the copper colored domes on the west end of the building. That’s were the instrumentation was once housed. The domes currently in place are replicas. The originals are somewhere on the University of Arizona campus.
Pueblo Revival architecture inspired by the Hopis is the best descriptor of the design of the buildings. In the early years, Navajo and Hopi artists came and did murals and paintings. The belief by the sick that the Natives were somehow inherently more healthy than they were led to the desire to surround themselves with all things Native. The real reason for the relative health of the Native people at that time was the smaller population and being relatively isolated. As more sick people came here, the American Indians in Arizona ended up with the highest rate of tuberculosis.
The Erickson Building was the home of the financial backers and later owners of the Desert Sanatorium. East coast money bought the place and kept it in operation for many years. Mr. Erickson was part of the famous McCann Erickson advertising still in operation today. The residence was mostly a destination for Mrs. Erickson since Mr. Erickson was so busy. Mr. Erickson died in 1936.
The Nurse’s residence is still in the process of being renovated. Money needs to be raised for the effort, but preserving these buildings of the past gives us the opportunity to experience them as they would have been during that time.
Times were changing and the sanatorium wasn’t as profitable in later years. It closed in 1943, but Mrs. Erickson worked with the powers that be at the time to create a community hospital that would “continue the tradition of scientific research and education” (Arizona Daily Star) that had begun with the Sanatorium.
Roy P. Drachman, another well-known Tucsonan, helped raise the money needed to make the transition to a community hospital. November 9, 1944, is considered the beginning of Tucson Medical Center.
You can walk the campus, and visit the Founders’ sight. There are plaques and a short history of how the Tucson Medical Center came into existence. Walking paths make the campus accessible to the neighborhood.