Sunday, October 18, 2009

The old hospital

The Army Veterans Hospital in Broadview Heights (south of CLE proper) opened in 1939 and catered mainly to WWII veterans. After the war, it housed tuberculosis patients. In 1965 the facility was transferred to the Ohio Department of Mental Hygiene and facilitated people with disabilities, many of which were children. It officially closed in 1992.

The City of Broadview Heights purchased the complex from the state in 1996 and moved the municipal administration to the adjacent Thorin Building. The old portion of the hospital was essentially abandoned, with much of the equipment and medical records still inside.

With no heat or maintenance, and area animals finding shelter inside, the vacant hospital fell into startling decay within a few years. To make matters worse, teenagers, homeless and the curious were constantly getting into the building, which was also rumored to be haunted.

Controversy always swirled around the old hospital, from the way it was abandoned to whether or not it contained asbestos and black mold. The building was razed in 2006. I was a local reporter in this area from 2001 through 2006 and the old VA hospital was often the subject of my beat. I had a chance to "tour" the interior of the hospital before the wrecking ball put it in it's grave.

I will never forget the inside of that building. Here are some pictures I took that day. Click on any to enlarge.

I expected it to feel creepy inside--and the space absolutely had a specific energy, but it thrummed with an overwhelming sadness. It was the saddest place I've ever experienced.

Metal cribs were strewn about in one ward. They included locking tops and resembled cages more than anything else.

The exterior of the building was literally falling down before the city could amass enough funds to demolish it.

Many of my best photos went to the publication I was writing for at the time. The industrial kitchen, with its massive mixing machines and ovens, should have been cool, but it just felt empty and sad like the rest of the facility. The operating room was horrible, with decrepit cases of knives and drills lining the walls.

The chapel remained as one of the least damaged portions of the facility.

The curtains were cropped so children couldn't reach and climb them. At some point in the 70s, the grounds surrounding the hospital were opened up as sporting fields for local clubs. One of my neighbors still recalls hearing the screams of the patients through open windows on warm summer days as he played soccer in the front lawn.

It was terrible and dangerous inside the old hospital. There was broken glass and dangling debris everywhere. I had to sign a release and don a protective mask before I could enter.

By the time I toured the hospital, much of the contents were gone, but what was left still told stories ...

... and told and told and told.

I was fascinated with the demolition of the building. On one unseasonably chilly afternoon in September 2006, I watched for a few hours along with a small crowd as two backhoes chewed away at a particularly obstinate wing. A massive steel bucket pounded away on one side of the annex while a giant jaw-like claw bit away at the other.

Just before 6 p.m., a plume of steam shot from one of the machines after a particularly violent fight with a tangle of rebar. The bucket shuddered and clamored to the ground. The huge steel arm curled under and the vehicle retreated, victim to a severed hydraulic line. The claw, however, kept on with the pummeling--at least until one of the crew began yelling at the operator. Something was out of whack with backhoe number two--one of its pins, a 2.5" solid steel rod--had snapped like a toothpick. The crew hung it up for the night.

"Both machines broke," one of the workers told me as he fingered the busted piece of steel.

It was as dramatic and symbolic a fight as I've ever witnessed. It was so real. The men, the hospital, we who watched, the rugged backhoes--we were all involved in the fray. Each of us had a point of view.

I respected the hospital that day, and the way she wasn't going to give up without a fight.

* * *

Related links:

Another page featuring the old VA hospital with many more photos and pages from patients' records. Whomever took these undoubtedly was in the facility a few years before me.

This slideshow of old asylum images was the impetus of this post.

The Wiki article on the facility.

* * *


Unknown said...

My granddad spent the last 2 years of his life here. Even in 1967 much was closed, young kids like me played in the abandoned buildings while my Mom and Grandmom visited granddad.

Erin O'Brien said...

That's amazing, Tag. I never expected people to remember having been inside when the building was still operational. Thanks for the comment.

Anonymous said...

Until thorazine became widely available in the early 50's there was often little option but to cage violent psychiatric patients. If one was particularly unlucky one might receive a transorbital lobotomy, popularized by Dr. Walter Freeman in 1946. Rosemary Kennedy was one of his patients. A tragic and fairly recent chapter in Medical History. But those old asylums have a compelling quality.


Kirk said...

From the sixth grade on, I grew up in North Royalton. As you know, Erin, Broadview Heights has no school system of its' own, so the kids get divvied up between Brecksville and North Royalton. As a result, Broadview Center, as it was called when I went to school, was always on my bus route. Whenever the bus drove past the Center, kids made the inevitable jokes. I'd like to say at that point I stood up and lectured everbody on their lack of sensetivity. I'd like to say that, but, well, I was a kid myself. Maybe if there had been an Internet back then, I would have lectured them on-line. Under an assumed name. Anyway, because of the building was so old-looking, and knowing there were mental patients inside, it always had an air of gloom about it. I'm surprised the Center's suburban neighbors didn't raise more of a fuss about it. I think it might have been because the building was there first, and the suburb grew up around it. As least it was in a nice semi-rural setting. As depressing as the building seemed to me as a kid, for the patients themselves, it may have been preferrable to similar places in the more treeless parts of Cleveland.

By the way, I said the bulding was "so old". But back in the 1970s, when I went to school, it would have been about 40 years old. That's about the same age as Parmatown, Southland, and half the shopping centers in the Cleveland suburbs. Of course, as this recession lingers on, and more stores go out of business, those places are now beginning to look a little gloomy. On that cheery note...

Erin O'Brien said...

RJ--Howard Dully's lobotomy tale is fascinating.

Kirk--You are dead on. The hospital was there first so how could neighbor's complaign? There's some corollary to "possession in 9/10 of the law" in all of this.

I have no idea if the hospital ever housed dangerous patients.

VideoDude said...

When I was in college we used to sneak into the local closed mental hospital. It was as if one day they had decided to leave and left almost everything. Patient files: I remeber reading one that said: "Patient #(Blah, Balh) did not respond to injections and was subdued and bound to his bed..."

There were music records laying on the floor of the recreation center.

Books were still on the shelves in the hospital library. I still have a copy of "Catcher In The Rye" with the stamp: "Property Of The Dayton Mental Hospital.

On the positve side, The building was not torn down, but turned into Senior Citizen Assisted Living Apartments, It still stands today called "10 Wilmington Place".

DogsDontPurr said...

I love ancient decrepit buildings. I want to pile through them, sift through all their detritus, and hear their stories and stories. I don't know why I am so drawn to them, but they truly drag me in.

I went to high school in a building much like the one in your post. It had been a sanitarium back in the 40's. My grandfather had been treated there for tuberculosis. My math classes, in the early 1980's, were held in the former morgue. That building had a truly creepy yet amazing vibe. Some rooms were at the very bottom rung of depressing, yet others were so sunny and perfect and beautiful. Bible class was in a gabled loft (yes, it was a religious private school). But our teacher was totally funky and cool, and that loft was like our secret hideaway. It was probably where the orderlies took smoke breaks back in the day. Stories, stories. If the walls could talk.

When I bought my building in Astoria, OR, I ran ads in the paper to see if anyone could tell me stories of its past. Only one guy responded at that time, but over the years people have dropped by with their stories. I just love that!

The building was built in 1910 as a creamery. It's a huge concrete warehouse that you can drive in on two levels. There's an ice shaving room, a butter hardening room. They made butter and ice cream in the beginning, had a soda fountain for a while, then it evolved into everything from flea market to auto repair.

I turned it into an artsy warehouse living space with an antique store. But now that I'm living in L.A., my tenants have converted it into a plumbing biz and a house. Yes...they actually built a HOUSE *inside* my building! Crazy. But stories, stories.

Old old buildings...I love them.

(Ooops....I just hijacked your comment section with the longest comment ever! Sorry...I ramble!)

DogsDontPurr said...

Oh! One more thing! One of the most revealing stories about my building was told to us by a waitress at a restaurant that we were regulars at. She told us, longingly, how she had lost her virginity in the elevator shaft on the roof!

Stories, stories.

Erin O'Brien said...

Okay, Vid-dude--tell the truth--did you lift any of the records?

I knew you would enjoy this post DDP! Your HS sound incredible, as does the rental prop. Cool stories.

Unknown said...

Well said..."progress" may be good, but I think we're diminshed whenever we lose a piece of our history. Thanks for sharing this.

VideoDude said...

No, I really didn't take any of the records. But as I said I did take several books
Including: "Cather In The Rye".

I do remember a group of us, guys and girls, each couple taking turns in a padded room. AH YOUTH!!! That was fun!!!!

Erin O'Brien said...

Thanks for dropping in, Jack.

Vid-Dude, that is hilarious!

Anonymous said...

I think the creepiest (and what makes it so interesting) aspect is the way things were left. Like one day all the people just vaporized. Very Pompeii. One of my publishers needed pics of Broad. Hts. a few years ago for a calendar, and I scoured the city for interesting shots (not an easy task). I was fascinated with the building and took a lot of shots there.None useable of course but I loved it. Especially the trees (and I mean TREES, not saplings) growing out of the windows on the north side. Thanks for so much more info...loved this post and the link!

DDP-Back when we owned a bar in Tremont, the neighborhood was just beginning to gentrify, therefore many old folks were still there and shared their stories of what the bar and neighborhood were like in "the old days". And every year when the local catholic church held a festival, younger folks would come back to the bar, where many of them told us they had their first drink in the back room with the curtains closed--the underage parlor as it were... Served by the bar owner! Ensuring continuing clientele, no doubt....many of the other stories were much more "adult"

history rocks.


Kirk said...

Ironic that a copy of "Catcher in the Rye" was left behind in a mental hospital. That's exactly where Holden Caulfield ended up.

Anonymous said...

I grew up in N. Royalton down the street from B'View Center in the late 70s early 80s. When I was a teenager a friend and I got a little, shall we say, inebriated and snuck into the main bldg on the site. The overwhelming sadness you describe was present even when the place was occupied. Maybe more so. I remember coming out of a stairway and looking down a long hallway of locked doors, with shoes and various other personal articles strewn on the brightly waxed floors. It was horrible. Not a place were ever considered returning to. It occurred to me later, however, that in our blue button down shirts and jeans and in the altered mental state we were in, that it is lucky we weren't caught. They might not have ever let us leave.

Jordi said...

theres a whole community of people who explore buildings like this. Its called urban exploration. Its a fascinating hobby.

Le Snips said...

What eda was trying to say was this:

my name eda asao pleased i meet you. now please you visit this site or i take no interest in hostpital story.

i personally disagree with her hardy attitude but i did like the post :D

Erin O'Brien said...

snippers, that was hilarious! I 'm afraid "eda's" copious comments have made me enable that irritating word verification.

Thanks to all for reading/commenting.

Anonymous said...

The old insane asylum images are haunting. Especially the one with the room with unclaimed copper urns filled with ashes. Sad to see them all just left behind in neat little rows.

Chris said...

I ran across a book review this morning that I thought might interest you (then got totally sidetracked by your 'Sexy' post, and almost forgot to send you the link:

Alicia said...

I came by to Congratulate you on Blog of Note and started reading this particular story. You write with such feeling. I almost wanted to cry for the hospital and could hear it as it probably was in it's hey-day.

I'll continue to come back often!

Nick's Blog n@ said...

Cool stuff. We used to sneak into an abandoned mental hospital in PA when we were in high school. There is something about walking through abandoned buildings that is pretty cool.

eliandra said...

A sensaçao que voce pasou em seu relato sobre o hostital, me deixou melancolica e assustada ao msmo tempo!!o quanto a vida humana e fulgaz,as lembranças daquelas pessoas que ali residiam,mostram que o tempo tudo é terrivelmente esquecido,gritos dor ,ainda ressoam na alma do prédio.As lagrimas secaram, mas a cicatriz do predio esta viva!!!

Erin O'Brien said...

The best I can do with an auto-translator for eliandra's Portuguese comment:

The sensation that you pasou in its story on the hostital, left me melancholic and scared to msmo time! how much the human life and fulgaz, the souvenirs of those people who inhabited there, show that the time

Anonymous said...

It's really crazy to read about all of this because my family is the reason the hospital is there in the first place. My family used to own the land that the building was on and we sold it to the federal government during the depression. Even though I was just a kid when the building was tore down, it's still weird to look across the street sometimes and not see that old hospital there.

Unknown said... 958, the year when Amanat Eye Hospital opened its doors for public, at Rawalpindi. The first private eye hospital of the city. As we moved step by step, staying abreast with the latest technology of the field, we marked our presence and our foot print for others to follow. Today we stand in our realm with a crown on our head, cherishing every accomplishment with a pride and with humility for we owe it to our patients.