On This Day: Christmas Crafts at Orthopaedic Hospital, Los Angeles, 15 December 1925

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.

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This press photo from the Homestead’s collection, dated 15 December 1925, shows young patients at what was then the Orthopaedic Hospital of Los Angeles, opened a few years prior, and is now the Orthopaedic Institute of Los Angeles. working with Christmas crafts outdoors at the facility.

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.

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Dr. Charles Lowman’s World War I draft registration form, a few years before he opened the hospital.

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.

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The 1930 census listing for Lowman and his family at their residence near Koreatown and the Mid-Wilshire districts of Los Angeles.

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.

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A stereoscopic photograph of a youngster on “Longstreet’s Palm Drive” leading to the house in the distance.  The home burned down in the late 1910s and became the site of Lowman’s Orthopaedic Hospital, which opened on 1 April 1922.  Two dozen of these palm trees, planted by Charles Longstreet in the 1870s, are still standing (but just slightly taller!)

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.

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