by Paul R. Spitzzeri
The featured photograph here is a wonderful image of children making Christmas crafts at Orthopaedic Hospital in Los Angeles on this date ninety-two years ago.
The press photo shows a young man sitting in a wheelchair with a cast on his left arm, while with his right hand he is weaving a wicker basket. A young girl lies on a bed at the left and holds a pair of scissors, with which it appears she is cutting ribbon. An open bottle of “Gluey Paste” is on the bed next to her, as is a doll on the other side.
Next to the children is a house which looks to have the ribbon as siding, while cotton batting represents snow on the sharply gabled roof. Santa Claus peeks out of the top of the large chimney projecting from the peak of the roof of the dwelling.
In the background, another boy observes the scene while reclining on a bed. It appears that the three youngsters are outdoors on a patio with a striped awning and some landscaping in the background.
Undoubtedly, the photo was taken to show that children in the hospital had plenty of opportunity for activities that involved both celebrating the holidays and keeping the patients doing something kinetic and interesting.
As this interesting article written twenty years ago by Cecilia Rasmussen in the Los Angeles Times explained, the institution was founded by a doctor who has largely been forgotten, Charles Lowman. Lowman, who happened to be born on Christmas Day 1879 in Park Ridge, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, arrived in Los Angeles in 1900 and entered the medical school at the University of Southern California, then affiliated with the Methodist Church, two years later. He then continued his education in Boston and returned to Los Angeles as its first orthopaedic surgeon.
In 1909, Lowman opened a clinic, soon known as the Crippled Children’s Guild, helping families who couldn’t afford treatment for their children. He then served in the army during the First World War. On returning, a property on West Adams Boulevard that he’d admired for sometime became available after the home there burned down. A wealthy benefactor acquired the parcel and then turned it over to Lowman on condition that $100,000 be raised and a hospital completed within three years.
With half that money coming from Anita Baldwin, daughter of Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin (who is oft-mentioned on this blog) and the rest raised by such tactics as sending a dollar to people he found in the phone book and then asking for a match, Lowman completed his Orthopaedic Hospital on 1 April 1922, after operating in a stable that survived the blaze that leveled the house.
Lowman added a school to the complex, converted a koi pond into a heated treatment pool, and invented surgical technique to help disabled children walk by criss-crossing leg tissues against abdominal muscles to strengthen the youngsters. After the polio vaccine was invented by Dr. Jonas Salk in the 1950s, the hospital, not used for long stays by children, accepted adults. Lowman was named “doctor of the century” by the local medical association in 1971 and died five years later well into his nineties.
As to that property that has been the site of what is now known as the Orthopaedic Institute for Children for nearly a century, that has also been featured on this blog. It is the former Longstreet estate, established in the 1870s, by New York clothier Charles Longstreet and which was renowned for its incredible gardens. After Longstreet died in 1877, his widow Lucy remained on the property until its skyrocketing value during the famed Boom of the Eighties led her to sell it.
It was subdivided with some housing built, but there was the remaining Longstreet residence that was destroyed by fire and on which land the hospital was established. What has remained are about two dozen towering palms on the original right-of-way to the Longstreet house—the sole reminders of one of Los Angeles’ landscaping marvels from the late 19th century. The Orthopaedic Institute, meanwhile, continues to work medical marvels to this day.