Forbidden Places–Part Two

Map of MTS siteThe 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.


archSociety 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.

Sources: The Encyclopedia of Chicago, Bright Lights Dim beauty of Chicago, Urban Naturalist, and Chicago Municipal Tuberculosis Sanitarium.

Read more: This is second in a series. Read part one, three and part four.  I’ve also interviewed a former patient.

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16 Responses to Forbidden Places–Part Two

  1. Danny February 2, 2010 at 9:06 am #

    I’m surprised I’ve never visited the grounds during trips home especially since I grew up (and my dad still lives) just a block away and I spent my childhood wondering about the mysterious sanitarium. I think I viewed it as some kind of leper colony. My sister has an old sign from the sanitarium’s kitchen. Every time I see the preview for Scorsese’s scary new “Shutter Island” starring Leonardo DiCaprio, I think of myself peering through the gates of the TB sanitarium. I hope there was no weird stuff going on there back in the day. Fascinating posts!

  2. frances728 February 2, 2010 at 9:44 am #

    Now that you have a little one, you can visit the playground, which is right near the entrance on Central Park and Ardmore. I promise you, it’s not scary. I’ve exchanged emails with others who lived on Central Park and everyone remembers being afraid of the place.

  3. chris February 2, 2010 at 7:24 pm #

    I remember hearing about the sanitarum and we thought it was a “spooky” place too, but didn’t know much about it. Loving your blog Frances! @ Danny, I read the book Shutter Island…you are right, makes me think of that too.

  4. frances728 February 2, 2010 at 9:15 pm #

    Chris, thanks for stopping by. Every neighborhood had its scary places, right?

  5. jennifer February 2, 2010 at 9:57 pm #


    Just got home and finally had a chance to read this. Absolutely fascinating, well written and informative –thank you for sharing. Your blog is great!

  6. Charles Dan Moore September 17, 2011 at 9:29 am #

    Frances Dan Moore here just checkin to see if you are well and still caring on with your work and research on MTS. I am still very interested and available to help,participate in some way with you. Dan Moore

  7. Frances Archer September 17, 2011 at 11:37 am #

    I’ve sent you an email. Thanks.

  8. Dolores Bucchi January 1, 2012 at 8:49 pm #

    My husband works at the buildings picture first on the page. I have been in the tunnels.

  9. Frances Archer January 1, 2012 at 9:30 pm #

    Do they still use the tunnels?

  10. Dolores Bucchi January 2, 2012 at 1:06 am #

    Yes for going around the buildings. They are kind of spooky.

  11. Frances Archer January 2, 2012 at 8:44 am #

    I’m jealous. I’d sure like to see them.

  12. Dolores Bucchi January 2, 2012 at 5:18 pm #

    The tunnels were scarier now they painted them and have brighter lights. I have been back by the tower and over by the church.

  13. Jerry Podgorski March 1, 2012 at 7:07 pm #

    I enjoyed reading this brief overview of the TB sanitarium, since I was born there some 73 years ago. My mother died there nearly three years later. Thanks for the history lesson.

    Jerry Podgorski

  14. Frances Archer March 1, 2012 at 7:40 pm #

    Jerry, thanks for visiting and sharing your story. I had a friend in grade school whose father had been born at MTS. He told me that on his father’s birth certificate, the place of birth was listed at Municipal Tuberculosis Sanitarium. I’m sorry for your loss.

  15. Bobbie July 5, 2013 at 11:29 am #

    My grandmother was a nurse there in the 1950’s

  16. Frances Archer July 7, 2013 at 4:33 pm #

    Hi, Bobbie. Thanks for visiting. If you recall any details your grandmother shared with you or your family, please let me know.

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