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Glendale Sanitarium: A spa dedicated to good health

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In 1886, early developers hired boomtown architects Samuel and Joseph C. Newsom to build the Glendale Hotel along what is now Broadway. It was in a field acquired after the California courts settled ownership of the vast San Rafael and La Cañada ranchos in favor of land-maneuvering gringos.

As it turned out, the hotel never opened, a casualty of another recession. First it was a school and then an investment for Glendale city father Leslie Brand, who had bought the building by late 1904. A good Angeleno, he flipped the property a year later. The buyer was a health pioneer, the Battle Creek Sanitarium.

Before our present-day insurance plans and government-backed medical programs, working-class Americans lived Catch-22 lives. When they got sick, they couldn't earn money to pay for care. Without care, they couldn't get better to return to their jobs. Workers depended on relatives, churches, charities and no-charge hospitals, which stumbled when tuberculosis, asthma and cholera afflicted industrial cities. The dominant Protestant ethos added to this misery by defining good health as a benefit of moral rectitude. Being sick, like being poor, was the fate of the weak and lazy.

Into this impoverished world came the church of Seventh-day Adventists. Formally founded in 1863, the organization linked spiritual health to physical well-being. It advocated a holistic life available to people who couldn't afford to be sick. The church promoted adherence to kosher laws, including abstinence from pork, shellfish and coffee. A routine of prayer and a vegetarian diet, without alcohol and tobacco, was easy to follow and preserved a high standard of daily health.

The church's faith was free; its services were not. In 1866, it opened the Battle Creek Sanitarium in Battle Creek, Mich. A decade later, John Harvey Kellogg, a doctor, became its superintendent. For paying customers, he instituted a program that included rigorous exercise and mealtime walks to improve digestion, classes on food preparation and sessions with a diabolic enema machine that pumped gallons of water in minutes. Among his curious obsessions was cereal. At a time when the rich dined on eggs and meat at breakfast as their servants chowed down on gruel, Kellogg promoted cornflakes that he and his brother Will manufactured. Their Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flake Co. launched Kellogg's, which is still based in Battle Creek.

SoCal was to healthcare what NorCal is to technology. Single-owner guest houses, tent cities and full-service hotel-sanitariums offered services at varying prices in a "sanatorium belt" that stretched from Los Angeles to San Diego. Through railroad publicity and business opportunities developed by chambers of commerce, the Southland encouraged cashing in on health. That is what Battle Creek did when it picked up the Glendale Hotel in 1905.

It was no accident that the Newsom brothers' Queen Anne-style extravaganza suited Battle Creek's health-through-good living program. Hotel architecture offers a welcoming home away from home, and the Glendale Hotel was a model American mansion. It had three stories with 75 spacious rooms and a broad, shaded veranda overlooking the Verdugo Mountains.

The Glendale Sanitarium prospered with California's growth after World War I. To meet demand, management added rooms and services. It offered health regimens to the sick and hotel amenities to tourists and community groups. Business was so good that in 1923, the Michigan company built the Glendale Sanitarium and Hospital on 28 acres off Wilson Avenue. When the complex opened in 1924, Battle Creek razed its homey Broadway facility.

Today the Newsom building is gone, but the church brings its dietary practices to millions through a global care network that includes the Glendale Adventist Medical Center off Wilson Terrace. In 2005, a century after Battle Creek came west, research funded by the National Institutes of Health revealed that the lives of California Seventh-day Adventists are longer than the national average. This fact suggests that 21st century L.A. still holds the promise of good health.

Watters is author of "Houses of Los Angeles" and co-author of the new "Dream House: The White House as an American Home." To read his past columns, go to latimes.com/lostla.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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