Opinion: What General Hospital, the ‘Great Stone Mother,’ means to L.A.
This one’s personal.
My mother has worked as a nurse at L.A. County-USC Medical Center in Boyle Heights since I was a child, mostly at the defunct Women’s and Children’s Hospital before it shut down 14 years ago. She also occasionally worked at the adjacent General Hospital, the large, Art Deco building that acts as an architectural hood ornament for Boyle Heights. Women’s Hospital, as it was colloquially known, was torn down after the new county hospital opened; General Hospital wasn’t, and thank God for that.
I say that because the nearly-century-old structure has tremendous sentimental value for me (though certainly not as much as those who live nearby). I spent many afternoons there as a kid and teen, sometimes playing with the children of patients being examined by my mother (it was also there that I discovered my mom speaks quite good Spanish, though she would say for medical purposes only).
General Hospital stopped serving patients 14 years ago. Now, as reported in The Times, the county wants to reconfigure it into homeless and affordable housing, prompting some readers to share their memories of and ideas for the building. Before getting to those letters, I want to point out one arguable misconception: From nearly every vantage point, General Hospital looks huge. But as my mom would remind me, that’s because it’s on a small hill. So the hulking edifice you see from the 5 Freeway is big, but not that big.
To the editor: I was 5 years old in 1936 when my mother took me to L.A. County General Hospital, where I was diagnosed with pulmonary tuberculosis.
I was instantly confined to the boys TB ward, which was a large room filled with boys in randomly scattered beds. There were no miracle drugs then. Our medication consisted of a single pill administered daily. To this day, I don’t know what that pill was.
Tuberculosis is extremely contagious. We were not allowed to have visitors and never left the ward. It was on a high floor with large windows that overlooked East L.A., including my cousins’ house. I often stood at those windows and watched my cousins’ daily routines. It was like a movie of having died and gone to heaven. I could see them, but I could not communicate with them.
I did not go outside for an entire year. I was eventually transferred to Olive View Sanitarium in Sylmar.
Victor M. Silva, Hermosa Beach
To the editor: In the 1960s, the Catholic girls’ high school that I attended was one of a number of volunteer groups that drove down to General Hospital to wheel patients to Sunday Mass in the hospital auditorium.
As teens, we went unaccompanied to wards to wheel patients in heavy iron beds down rickety elevators to the service. Then we were the choir that day. Some of the patients and their families sang with us, singing in English and Spanish.
It’s a very nice memory.
Cheryl Ortega, Los Feliz
To the editor: I was heartened to hear that the old General Hospital is being converted to provide shelter for the homeless. That is so consistent with its mission.
For so many years it provided care to all comers, especially those who had nowhere else to go. So, we who worked there came to affectionately call her the “Great Stone Mother.”
She also served as the training hospital for countless doctors, nurses and every category of health professionals, where they gained skills and knowledge that “wasn’t in the books.”
To those of us who loved her, our Great Stone Mother will live on.
Dr. Gerald Whelan, Wyndmoor, Pa.
To the editor: My hopeful excitement grew as I read about the history and projected future of General Hospital.
Plans to reimagine General Hospital and create spaces to be used to move the now unhoused toward wellness, training and eventually wholeness, which could replace the nearby homeless encampments, seem so right.
Reimagining and preserving General Hospital is an apt metaphor for the healing spaces necessary to cure the disease of homelessness that tears the fabric of our city. Los Angeles has the property and means to use this existing icon to heal itself. Rehabbing this place is a gigantic project, and it seems that what is needed is a seasoned developer to make it happen.
Could this grand plan have former mayoral candidate Rick Caruso’s name all over it? What a legacy he could create for himself and for his beloved city.
Who knows? Maybe he could actually earn the mayorship some day.
Sharon Fane, Rancho Cucamonga
To the editor: Here’s your chance, Mr. Caruso.
As the article says, “The county will also be seeking a developer early next year who has creative ideas ... to partner in the project ... which is expected to require $1 billion or more in public and private financing.”
This is the perfect place to put your immense wealth and your experience to good use — and to polish up your reputation as one who wants only good for our city.
Judy Carr, Santa Monica
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