The Municipal Tuberculosis Sanitarium on Chicago’s far north side once was a place that frightened neighborhood children and once was a place of misery, as a physician wrote in a comment to my earlier post. Today, it’s a very accessible, much-treasured public resource serving many people and many purposes.
Most of the original buildings were demolished, but the remaining ones appear in good condition. The decorative detail, tile inlays and craftsmanship visible inside and out are all the more impressive when you remember this publicly funded institution was built to serve patients who couldn’t afford to pay for their treatment.
Society architects design for the masses. The city wanted a hospital they could be proud of. They chose the firm of prominent Chicago architects William A. Otis and Edwin H. Clark. Otis designed Lunt Hall on the Northwestern University campus and the Horace Mann and Greeley schools in Winnetka. Among the buildings Clark designed are several landmark estates on the North Shore, the Plaza del Lago shopping mall in Wilmette and the Winnetka Village Hall.
The sanitarium opened with thirty-three buildings. Men, women and children had separate cottages, dining halls and recreation areas. There was an administration building, an auditorium, an infirmary, a maternity ward, a nurses’ home, and a service building that housed the nurses’ dining room and a separate employee dining room. There also was a bird sanctuary, a groundskeeper’s house, a farm, a farm house, a barn and a garage for sanitarium vehicles. The guard houses at the main gate contained offices and living areas.
In my previous post I included a photograph of a 120-foot-high tower, the only structure visible from outside the fence. It was attached to the laundry/power plant building and contained a 60,000-gallon water tank in its upper storeys.
Chicago likes its tunnels. A network of underground tunnels running a total length of 1, 550 feet connected all the buildings. The tunnels were seven feet high, contained service pipes and were used to transport food and supplies.
The roofs of the tunnels were concrete walkways, so this segment of pavement I discovered leading to the laundry/power house is probably the remains of a tunnel. It has several small windows along the sides and, as with most sanitarium structures, a decorative element–in this case, a glazed brick border.
The jewel of the renovated grounds is the North Park Village Nature Center and Preserve. An original sanitarium cottage, the only one left, houses the Nature Center.
I’ve looked at life from both sides now. As a child, I worried that living so close to the sanitarium might be sort of the same as living inside the sanitarium. Sometimes, worrying too much about a thing may actually bring it about.
The city’s redevelopment plans set aside an area behind the main guard houses at the corner of Pulaski and Bryn Mawr for a small, gated condominium community. When the sales office opened in the early 1990s, my parents were first in line. The house on Central Park had become too much work, the stairs too painful. And so my parents moved, across the street, onto the grounds of the old TB sanitarium.
Credits: Thanks to Marshall Rosenthal for use of this photo of a trail at the North Park Village Nature Preserve.