by Paul R. Spitzzeri
As has been noted on several occasions in this blog, greater Los Angeles was deemed a “health seekers’ paradise” in the late 19th century as its incomparable climate and ocean breezes were thought to be of great benefit to those in poor health, especially “consumptives,” or those suffering from pulmonary problems such as tuberculosis.
A great many sanitariums, as they were then known, opened throughout the region, including many in the communities nestled in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, such as Monrovia. There were also a number in Los Angeles, including one highlighted in this blog a few years ago.
One of the very few that still survives, however, is the Barlow Respiratory Hospital, established on twenty-five acres at the base of the Elysian Hills in 1902 by Dr. Walter J. Barlow and which was specifically created to treat indigent patients, separating it from the remaining institutions of the kind.
Barlow was born in Ossining, New York, north of New York City in 1868, and, after attending local public schools and a military academy where he finished the equivalent of high school, he entered Columbia University. There, he received his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1889 and immediately entered the university’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, from which he graduated with his medical degree three years later.
After interning at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City for two-and-a-half years, Barlow learned that he had tuberculosis and promptly headed west, arriving in San Diego in 1895 and then settling in Los Angeles the following year. His case was moderate and he soon regained his health, but determined, in addition to establishing a private practice, to create his sanitarium.
The institution was incorporated in April 1902 and Barlow and his family contributed the first $20,000 that went towards the clearing of ground, building of structures, and the other elements of construction in the Chavez Ravine section of the Elysian Hills. On 1 September 1903, the first patient was admitted to the Sanitarium.
While Barlow was the main financial backer in the earliest days of his namesake facility, he was able to quickly find supporters among the financial and social elite of Los Angeles and today’s highlighted artifact from the Homestead’s holdings reflects this. On this date in 1904, just a little over a year after the sanitarium opened, a “lawn fete” was held at Barlow’s home on Figueroa Street, just north of Adams Boulevard in what was one of the most elite residential districts in the city, and that of his powerful, well-heeled neighbors, banker and real estate developer Jonathan S. Slauson and sugar beet king Henry T. Oxnard.
Others of Barlow’s immediate neighbors included oil tycoon Edward L. Doheny, whose mansion was built by Oliver Posey (a major supporter of the sanitarium) and is now part of Mount St. Mary’s College, and Thomas D. Stimson, whose imposing Romanesque Revival home has been profiled in this blog and which was acquired in 1904 by engineer Alfred Solano (also a key patron of the sanitarium). The Stimson house was used as a fraternity residence for USC students and Doheny’s widow, Carrie, tired of the noise from her adjacent manse, purchased it and gave it to a Catholic nuns’ order for use as a convent, which it is still used for today.
The Barlow residence was eventually razed and the site is now St. Vincent de Paul School, the parish church of which is the monumental one on the corner of Figueroa and Adams just south of the Stimson House. As for Barlow and his family, they moved to a thirteen-acre property in Sierra Madre and built, in 1924, a large Mediterranean home called Villa del Sol d’Oro. Barlow died in 1937, after a very successful career that included leadership positions in the American Medical Association and those for state and local societies and in many other ways.
As for the “lawn fete,” it was lavishly covered by the Los Angeles Times, which was hardly a surprise, given that its owner and publisher Harrison Gray Otis and his wife Eliza and their daughter Marian and her husband, Times assistant publisher Harry Chandler were, naturally, among the patrons of the sanitarium.
Waxing poetic about the event, the paper began its main article with:
Said the Lady Moon last night, tucking a troublesome tress of clouds behind her ear: “This is the charmingest bit of Earth-scene I’ve looked down upon in all my wanderings through the sky.
Her ladyship was right. A garden’s very heart it was, this wonderful Barlow lawn féte, with fair faces for posies and a thousand many-colored lanterns and gay incandescents glowing like luminous fireflies in a dim forest of delight.
From the echoing sidewalk of a quiet street, one step to fairyland! Under a flashing arch, one pace from the commonplace into an Arabian Night’s dream . . . ah, here is the fairyland.
Have you the price? Then come!
One of the motifs, though, was apparently the Southern plantation, represented by a booth facade known as “Bellgarde,” described as “a typical Southern mansion” and designed by prominent architect Sumner P. Hunt. The hostesses at this coffee station were wearing hoop skirts and other accoutrements befitting the Antebellum era, but that wasn’t all, said the Times: “the dark mammy is here, too, in all her glory of bright kerchief and bandana and with all the masterful air that some of us remember from the days long ago.”
One wonders if the portrayal of the mammy was done by a white woman in blackface, which would not at all be surprising, especially because, among the performers at the event, were a quartet of vaudevillians doing a minstrel show in blackface. One, Harry Lott, portrayed a “nigger preacher” and the four men “sang over the grounds everything from high-class, gilt-edge music to the raciest of rag time.
Moreover, at a game booth, where a dime was required to try and hit a row of rag dolls, a freckle-faced boy was heard to yell out: “Mamma, give me ten cents and I’ll show ’em how to paste those nigger babies.” Thought the young man missed his target, the paper reported that “his humiliation was complete when a crooked-armed girl brought down a nigger baby at the first shot.”
There was also an Indian wigwam, where Charles F. Lummis, editor of the Land of Sunshine magazine and Los Angeles city librarian, held court dressed in a buckskin costume along with one of the few Latinos present, Dolores Cortez, the self-styled “Queen of the Gonzales,” purported a tribe of Spanish gypsies. Other booths and sections were devoted to Russian, Japanese and Turkish themes and one of the society misses was described as looking “for all the world like a modest little Jap in [a] kimona [sic] of heavy scarlet and black embroidery.” Racism was clearly and so easily normalized at the time as evidenced by these casual references.
Finally, there was a newspaper booth, decorated in an “oriental” manner with rugs, wall-hangings and low-hung lanterns (perhaps evoking a Persian atmosphere?), where Susan Dorsey, the long-time superintendent of Los Angeles city schools, “in a handsome Paris creation of lemon-colored silk” and “with a corps of attractive assistants” was selling the “Souvenir Journal,” the artifact spotlighted here.
In fact, there was a separate article in the paper devoted to the publication, which was promoted by the Times as desirable not just for its philanthropic purpose, but “as a literary curio.” Because “Los Angeles is honored by the citizenship of an exceptionally large number of literary men and women,” it was asserted that “it is doubtful whether so large a proportion of these will ever again unite in contributing to a single publication.
Among the contributors were Lummis; Eliza A. Otis (wife of the Times impresario); California poet laureate and author of the paternalistic and pro-Catholic Mission Play John Steven McGroarty; journalist Sam T. Clover (covered in a post in this blog); newspaper publisher William A. Spalding; writer Harry Ellington Brook, author of a popular promotional pamphlet on greater Los Angeles and another Times columnist; and many others.
It was lamented that there were so many advertisements submitted by local businesses that some of the other contributions in terms of poems, essays, humor and others were left out. Managed by Mrs. M.G. Lobdell, the publication was edited by Hugh McDowell, who also edited the magazine section of the Times. For those who could not buy the souvenir at the event, it was being offered for sale at regional newsstands.
Specifically highlighted in the paper’s coverage was an article by the Reverend Robert J. Burdette, pastor of the Temple Baptist Church from 1903-1909, who was also widely known for his humor writings when he was a journalist years before he was ordained in the late 1890s. A popular figure on the lecture circuit, he was said to have delivered his “The Rise and Fall of the Mustache” thousands of times over decades.
In the Barlow publication, among Burdette’s witticisms in his “First Aid for the Injured” was “if you see a man falling downstairs, get out of his way. This may save your life” and “if a man steps on a banana peel, assist him at once with a peal of laughter.” In an extended bit about drowning, he recommended that those who considered jumping off a pier into the ocean should “advise with those distinguished amphibians Mr. Pierpont Morgan and Mr. Charles Schwab. They have floated more water-logged schemes and soaked more people who couldn’t swim than any other hot-air buoys in America.” Finally, if a drowned person was brought to shore and revived, it was suggested to squeeze him “drier than the Prohibition ticket,” referring to growing temperance movement to ban alcohol production, sale and use that culminated in national Prohibition, which the Homestead is commemorating this centennial year of the “great social experiment.”
The publication contains other interesting material, including Brook’s “How to Live Long,” which finds comedic reasons expressed in a serious, commanding fashion for denigrating any type of food. For example, “bread, instead of being the staff of life, is rather the staff of death, for the reason that starch cannot be digested in the stomach except when subjected to dry heat at a temperature of 300 deg[rees].” As for fruit, he wrote that some people break into rashes when eating strawberries “and some people have nose bleed from even smelling apples.”
As for beverages, Brook advised that “whiskey inflames the blood and brain’ and that Reisling, a white wine, is “notoriously bad for the nerves.” Tea, however, has tannins that are detrimental to health and coffee is laded with caffeine, a “poisonous principle,” so that a cup of black coffee was as bad as a glass of whiskey. As for hot chocolate, Brook wrote that “Arctic explorers have been found dead of starvation with cakes of chocolate lying beside them.”
Hearkening to the post yesterday about the Homestead’s exhibit on Prohibition, Brook intoned that “the concoctions sold at soda fountains are in some respects more dangerous than alcoholic drinks,” because of contamination in the establishments where acids in the drinks come in contact with tin containers. As for “coca cola,” and other sodas, “they merely give a temporary feeling of exhilaration, to be followed by an inevitable reaction.”
Finally, there was water and the local source of the Los Angeles River “contains an undue amount of alkali, making it hard, tending to ossify the arteries and bring on old age,” not to mention the proclivity of some ranchers to allow their cattle to roam in the water course. As for distilled water, “it is dead, being deprived of the necessary life-giving properties that nature places in water.”
Having explicated virtually any type of food and drink, Brook then advised that “with these few unimportant exceptions, you can safely eat and drink anything your appetite craves.” After writing that bathing and exercise were also useless, he issued “a word of warning against the most dangerous practice of breathing, a practice which most of us have followed from the earliest day—in fact, I may say, from birth.” Because there were so many microbes in the air, “I would strongly urge you not to breathe” unless “through a wad of cotton saturated with eucalyptus oil, formatin, or some antiseptic.”
With all of this, “it would seem that the proper thing for a person to do who desires to live long and be healthy is to go to bed and sleep,” though by following Brook’s “simple rules you may be assured of a good chance of living until you die.”
Aside from these comedic interludes, essays about the Barlow, advertisements and lists of the many, many committee members, there are some photographs of a few of these volunteers. One is Charlotte Workman, daughter of former mayor and current city treasurer William Henry Workman and a great-niece of Homestead settlers William and Nicolasa Workman.
She worked at the ice cream and cake booth and was among an impressive list of elites in the city who supported Barlow, including those mentioned above along with transportation and real estate tycoon Henry E. Huntington; real estate developer William May Garland; banker Joseph Sartori; Epes Randolph of the Southern Pacific railroad; Los Angeles Express publisher Edwin T. Earl; doctor and philanthropist John Randolph Haynes; music and theater impresario Lyndon E. Behymer; and women with such familiar surnames as Bixby, Rowland (the daughters of former sheriff and oil man William R. Rowland, son of Rancho La Puente grantee John Rowland); Mellus; Howard; Chapman; Banning; Kerckhoff; and De Longpre.
Approaching its 120th year, the Barlow Respiratory Hospital continues to operate at its original site just west of Dodger Stadium. Meanwhile, the Barlow home in Sierra Madre is now owned operated as an events and filming venue and is owned by the Roman Catholic Church. The word “sanitarium” has long fallen out of use, as is the case with what was known as El Encanto Sanitarium, opened at the Homestead in October 1940 and which is now the El Encanto Health and Habilitation Center and which will celebrate its 80th anniversary next year.