During our weekly Throwback Thursday blog posts, we’ll revisit hospitals and other aspects of health care's past. Some hospitals are still around; others have been remodeled significantly or demolished. We’ll discuss their architecture, history, mission and current status. We’ll take a similar approach to forgotten traditions, inventions, events and more.
For our inaugural column, we visit the U.S. Naval Hospital in Philadelphia.
The massive Art Deco medical facility was designed by architects Walter Karcher and Livingston Smith. “In its style, massing and placement away from the urban heart of the city, the Philadelphia Naval Hospital was a precursor to the more famous Naval Medical Center at Bethesda, Md., completed in 1939,” says Bruce Laverty, an architecture curator at the Athenaeum of Philadelphia, a local library and museum. The Bethesda complex was designed by fellow architect Paul Philippe Cret, who also studied at the Ecole de Beaux Arts in Paris just like Karcher and Smith.
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“Both of their structures show the stripped down modern classicism that Beaux Arts-trained architects were developing in the 1930s,” he says.
The 15-story Philadelphia institution became known as the center for amputation, orthopedic and prosthetic services for Navy, Marine, and Coast Guard veterans who lived east of the Rocky Mountains during World War II, according to the Library of Congress’ Historic American Buildings Survey.
The complex’s vestibule paid homage to the U.S. Navy with anodized aluminum heater grates depicting ships in full sail framed by marble panels and dolphin-shaped air intakes.
The hospital’s exterior displayed carvings of golden eagles.
Unfortunately, World War II may have marked the complex’s peak use, according to Laverty. By the late 1970s, Defense Department studies, combined with declining use of the facility, determined the building unsuitable for renovation. Officials shut down the complex under the Base Realignment and Closure Act of 1988. All medical functions were relocated from the complex in 1993 and the hospital was razed in 2001.
Mary Beth Klatt is a writer specializing in architecture and design. She has also written for the National Association of Realtors’ online Architecture Coach column. She was a staff writer for the American Hospital Association News.
Be sure to return to hhnmag.com next Thursday for our second installment of historic hospital throwbacks.