“Along Those Lines Conducive to the Uplift of Humanity”: Eulogizing Dr. Norman Bridge in “The Bulletin of the Los Angeles County Medical Association,” 5 February 1925

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

In the third number of its 55th year, The Bulletin of the Los Angeles County Medical Association of 5 February 1925, which is the featured artifact from the Homestead’s collection for this post, is somewhat slender on content, though quite substantial in advertisements, with these latter including ones for the Radium and Oncologic Institute; Adohr Stock Farms and its milk; Arrowhead Springs Company and its famous water; pharmacists; the Eye and Ear Hospital of Los Angeles; and many others.

A “Sanitarium Directory” includes such institutions as Las Encinas of Pasadena; The Pottenger Sanatorium at Monrovia; the Lake View Rest Home above Silver Lake in Los Angeles; Banksia Place Sanitarium “in the beautiful foothills of Hollywood;” the Mar Vista Sanitarium at Palms near Westwood; The SunnySlope Sanitarium at La Crescenta north of Glendale; and Soboba Hot Springs near Hemet, which advertised “a mineral hot springs amidst orange trees” and “water of unexcelled curative properties”—Walter P. Temple was a frequent visitor and even built a replica of a cottage he used there as his “Tepee” retreat and home office next to La Casa Nueva.

Los Angeles Express, 15 November 1892.

Otherwise, the publication listed its officers, trustees and councilors for 1925, all but one, Eleanor Seymour, being men, along with members of many committees, such as the Medico-Legal; Industrial Accident and Contact Practice; Illegal Practitioners; Malpractice Defense; Scientific Program; college aid; public health; lay activities; and others. Here again, among the dozens of names, few were women, though Katherine Close served on the Nurses’ Bureau; Julia Johnson was on the Milk Commission; Seymour was chair of the college aid committee; and Olga McNeile was on the Speakers Bureau.

The financial report for 1924 was provided by the CPA firm of Haskins & Sells and the Secretary’s Report noted the number of board of councilors and board of trustees meetings, the issues published of the Bulletin, calls made on the telephone exchange, and the membership report. This latter noted that there were over 1,450 members paying dues of just north of $30,000 and a list showed nearly a doubling of members since 1918 and a net increase of 114 in the prior year.

Los Angeles Record, 1 October 1906.

A calendar showed the meetings planned for the month, including for branches; sections like obstetrics, dermatology, anaesthesia, surgery and radiology, among others; hospitals such as St. Vincent’s, White Memorial, California Lutheran, Clara Barton, and Angelus; and the Los Angeles Society for Neurology and Psychiatry. A want ad section included listings for office space for rent, the sale of practices, and help wanted.

Of great interest, however, when it comes to greater Los Angeles history is the eulogy for Dr. Norman Bridge (1844-1925), who died in January at the age of 80. While Bridge had a distinguished medical career, he was actually far better known for his substantial fortune earned from his work in the oil industry and the resulting philanthropic endeavors that involved large sums donated to many regional organizations.

Express, 15 October 1915.

Bridge was born at the end of 1844 in Windsor, Vermont, the site, on the border with New Hampshire, where a 1777 constitution was adopted fourteen years before statehood. Like the Temple family in nearby Massachusetts, Bridge could trace his ancestry in New England to the 1630s with a forebear, John, who settled in Cambridge, next to Boston and was said to be responsible for choosing the site of Harvard University. His great-grandfather was a colonel in George Washington’s Revolutionary War army and Bridge was born on a small farm that was hard to eke out a living from, so his family moved to Illinois when he was twelve.

After completing high school, Bridge started to teach at a country school, but came down with a fever which ended his teaching stint. After working as a post office clerk and as a fire insurance agent, he went to the University of Michigan to study medicine and followed by attending Northwestern University, where he earned his M.D. in 1868. From then, he went into teaching, first at Northwestern, then at the Woman’s Medical College and, finally, from 1874 at the Rush Medical College at the University of Chicago, with which he was associated for decades. In addition to teaching, Bridge practiced medicine for close to two decades at the Presbyterian and Cook County hospitals in Chicago, while he also served on the Windy City’s Board of Education and Republican Party Election Commissioner.

Los Angeles Record, 6 February 1924.

In 1890, however, Bridge, through a microscopic investigation of his own mucus and saliva, discovered that he contracted pulmonary tuberculosis and, after consultation with a doctor on the east coast, immediately took a train west and, as so many thousands of “health seekers” did during the late 19th century, sought a cure in temperate Los Angeles. He arrived in the first days of 1891 and, that March, purchased land from Nathaniel C. Carter at Sierra Madre, deep in the heat of the “sanitarium belt” of the foothills in the San Gabriel Valley.

About a year after his relocation to the area, newspaper publisher and former Chicago Mayor Carter Harrison (who was soon returned to office and then murdered in his home in 1893) wrote of his recent visit to the Angel City. In talking about the health benefit of greater Los Angeles for those suffering from lung troubles, Harrison noted:

The most striking case brought intimately to my knowledge is that of Dr. Norman Bridge. He was my family physician in Chicago . . . He lives on one of the foothills of the Sierra Madre, a spur of the San Bernardino [San Gabriel Mountains], near Pasadena, and comes to Los Angeles each day, where he keeps office hours . . . He sleeps in the attic of his house, where the free air circulates from open windows about his bed, and he looks as well and strong as he did years ago. His cough is nearly gone and he hopes for a long life . . . By the way, I noticed that a rich eggnog is a necessary part of his every lunch.

Later that year, Bridge made his own observations about the climate in greater Los Angeles and remarked, “it is unwise and unfair to claim for this region any special medicinal virtue for particular diseases, but the air being drier makes life more endurable for pulmonary patients and their recovery more likely.” A more active outdoor life “helps numerous such invalids, as well as many others, to recover, who in the climate of the East would certainly die.” This, no doubt, included the good doctor.

Pasadena Post, 12 January 1925.

Bridge opened a practice on Broadway (recently changed from Fort Street) south of 2nd and also became widely recognized as a speaker and writer on medical subjects. After a few years, he moved to Pasadena, where he quickly established a relationship with Throop Polytechnic Institute, later renamed the California Institute of Technology, serving on its board of trustees, including as chair, for many years and, when he became fabulously rich, providing large sums, including over a half-million dollars for a physics building and laboratory that still bears his name.

A successful operator in real estate, Bridge acquired some property in Ventura County just west of modern Simi Valley and, with some partners, went into petroleum prospecting. As “his growing secular interests” occupied more of his time, he cut back on his medical practice and teaching, which included three-month sessions in Chicago to instruct at Rush. His big boon, however, was his burgeoning friendship and business ties to Edward L. Doheny, who came to Los Angeles with Charles Canfield just after Bridge’s migration.

In 1892, with a modest investment using primitive equipment, Canfield and Doheny brought in an oil well northwest of downtown that ushered in the Los Angeles Oil Field. Five years later, in partnership with the Santa Fe Railroad, Doheny successfully completed a well on the Olinda Ranch in what is now Brea, that was Orange County’s debut in the oil industry. When, in the first years of the 20th century, Bridge invested $5,000 in the Mexican Petroleum Company with Doheny and Canfield, among others, it opened the doors to enormous financial returns for the doctor, who was an officer and director in several companies tied to the oil titans.

A 1913 biographical sketch of Bridge asserted that Canfield, Doheny and Bridge “conducted their business in harmony and amity with the government of Mexico and with its citizens both of the business and the working classes, for whom, and for the government, they have high respect.” Later, however, the Mexican government nationalized the oil industry and concerns of American economic imperialism caused great consternation and agitation among many there.

Notably, Bridge and Doheny invested in endowing, at Occidental College, a chair of Hispanic History, the first of which was the noted California historian Robert Glass Cleland, and there is also a Norman Bridge Distinguished Professor of Spanish, Spanish and French Studies. The pair were also officers of the Southwest Society of the Archaeological Institute of America, which led to the formation of the Southwest Museum of the American Indian. He was also a founder and officer of the Hispanic Society of California. Other civic organizations in which Bridge was involved were the Practical Patriots of Los Angeles, formed just as the United States was poised to enter the First World War, and the Red Cross Seals program for Tuberculosis.

Bridge’s life was extended by well over three decades with his move to Los Angeles, with about the last decade spent living in one of Doheny’s expansive houses in the tony Chester Place neighborhood near the University of Southern California and then on an adjacent property on Adams Boulevard. In fall 1916, however, the Los Angeles Times reported that Bridge actually had a permanent residence in a Chicago hotel, The Blackstone (later it was the exclusive Drake), “in order that his great fortune may be given to educational institutions in California.”

Bridge, who married Mae Manford in 1874, but with the couple childless after losing an infant daughter, was miffed that a California law forbade bequests of more than a third of an estate to schools and charities, with the bulk to be left to heirs.” Being without issue, the doctor made an announcement in the Windy City that,

I think it is disgraceful that I should be obliged to leave the balmy climate of California and come 2000 miles in order to dispose of my estate as I see fit . . . I feel that the law is foolish and should be repealed.

In the eulogy in the county medical association magazine, George L. Cole, Andrew Stewart Lobingier and Henry W. Howard wrote that Bridge, after removing to Los Angeles, “soon won for himself a place of distinction not alone in the medical profession, but among his fellow citizens.” They noted his years of teaching at Rush and his expansive practice because of referrals from graduates that “required all his physical strength.”

It noted his return for three months of teaching in Chicago, as well as growing commitment to his oil industry work that “gradually extended until, during the last few years, it had absorbed most of his time.” As to Bridge’s interest in education, the eulogists stated that he had “become a most liberal contributor” to Cal Tech and Rush, though they hastened to add that “his philanthropies have been many and varied” and only a few who best knew him were aware of many of his contributions.

These intimate friends, moreover, knew of “the true dignity of a most noble and elevating character, free from guile and the foibles of ordinary men.” Bridge, moreover, was “undeviating in the curse of righteousness to God and fellow man, [and] unflinching in staunchness for the right of all things,” so that “he has always been an example worthy of emulation by those associated with him.”

Observing that there were many who mourned Bridge’s death, the three men lionized him for “a strong, brave, noble character” of which “there are too few such characters in the world.” Cole, Lobingier and Howard concluded that,

All who have had the fortune to be closely associated with him have been lifted to a better life than had they not been recipients of his friendship . . . In short, it may be said that his great life work has been along those lines conducive to the uplift of humanity.

Local papers also offered high praise to Bridge. The Los Angeles Express of 13 January stated “art and letters and music and education and philanthropy all engaged him His benefactions were too many to enumerate, and probably not a half of them are known . . . For Dr. Bridge, generous in spirit as in act, made no ostentation of doing good.”

The Los Angeles Times of the next day proclaimed that “Los Angeles was proud of Dr. Bridge because of his great intellectual attainments and his magnificent philanthropy . . . He arrived here in broken health . . . our climate did wonders for him and in turn he did wonders for us.” It averred that Bridge thought of himself as a steward of his great wealth “for he proceeded to spend large portions of it for the public good.” The paper brought up his Illinois residence because of the California law on bequests, lamenting that “we cannot speak of Dr. Bridge as a citizen of California.” Still, it ended, “few men have passed into the great hereafter with hands so well filled.”

Columnist F.F. Runyon of the Pasadena Post‘s edition of the 13th stated that the Crown City “shall always honor his memory” because of his enormous beneficence to Cal Tech. He added that the more than $500,000 given for the physics laboratory at the school was the kind of effort that drew such distinguished scientists as Dr. Robert A. Milikan, who’d recently isolated the electron to the great delight of Bridge. Runyon finished by writing that “Dr. Bridge knew that the money he was devoting to this great work was really an investment in the future welfare of mankind.”

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