The Kaspare Cohn Hospital and Mt. Sinai Hospital and Clinic, Part Two

 by Rudy Martinez

Editor’s note: The second part of  this post by Boyle Heights Historical Society Advisory Board member Rudy Martinez takes us to the move of the Kaspare Cohn Hospital from Angelino Heights to what was later called East Los Angeles [Lincoln Heights was the original East Los Angeles.]  This part covers about a decade during the early part of the 20th century and we’ll return next Tuesday with part three.  

With a growing population of Jewish immigrants in Los Angeles and no adequate hospital to serve them, the order of the day was to finally build a culturally familiar medical institution that was modern but large enough to accommodate their needs. In 1909, the Kaspare Cohn Association paid $5,000 for a 5-acre parcel at the southwest corner of Ditman and Stephenson Avenues for the construction of the new hospital. To comply with a 1904 city ordinance requiring hospitals of its type to be outside of Los Angeles city limits, it was also one block east of the line separating Boyle Heights from the county area beyond. In 1925, Stephenson Avenue was renamed, Whittier Boulevard. 

It should be pointed out that this was not the first Jewish institution established in the area. The Hebrew Benevolent Society of Los Angeles founded the first Los Angeles Jewish cemetery in Chavez Ravine in 1854 (where the former Naval and Marine Corps Armory stands today), but in 1901, they relocated the cemetery and those interred to the new Home Peace Cemetery at 4334 Stephenson Avenue (Whittier Boulevard), less than a mile east of the hospital site.  

Los Angeles Times, 5 September 1909

With the new hospital’s projected cost being $50,000, committees were organized to solicit donations. When these gifts stalled at $20,000, four of the Jewish community’s most generous supporters stepped in. They included Harris Newmark, businessman and author of the valuable memoir, Sixty Years in Southern California: 1853 – 1913; David and Moses Hamburger, builders in 1908 of the opulent Hamburgers Department Store at Broadway and 8th Streets and which, fifteen years later, became the May Company; and the seemingly indispensable Kaspare Cohn. 

Designed by the architectural firm of Edelman and Barnett (Abram M. Edelman, son of the first rabbi in Los Angeles, also designed the Breed Street Shul in Boyle Heights in 1923), the 50-bed hospital was projected to serve as a general hospital for medical, surgical, and obstetric patients. Architectural drawings called for a red brick, two-story building, 158 feet wide and 80 feet deep, with a lofty portico entrance flanked by grand stone columns. A 10-cot, single-story tubercular ward was also built behind the main building. 

The opening dedication was held with an overflow crowd in the hospital’s main hall on June 19, 1910. The ceremonies included several musical programs and addresses by some of the facility’s prominent patrons, including Cohn. The following day the Los Angeles Herald reported, “In every particular, the equipment and the arrangement of the hospital are modern and scientific. There are two buildings, one large two-story brick and the other, a smaller one, also of brick. The association has shown foresight in purchasing a large amount of ground upon which additional buildings may be erected if necessary.”  

Los Angeles Herald, 20 June 1910.

Like the original Carroll Avenue facility, no one was denied treatment or hospitalization because of their inability to pay. Thanks to the Jewish community’s steadfast support, the hospital’s appeals, large or small, were often answered. When the hospital needed fresh eggs, and chickens for Sunday dinner, fifty laying hens and a hen house were delivered. When they requested “dark scarlet geraniums” to beautify the grounds and walkways, a flat of flowers was immediately provided. Socialist Jewish collectives also contributed to the facility, including sewing supplies from the Los Angeles Needle Guild, and the stitching of hospital garments by the Temple Sewing Circle. 

The hospital’s compiled statistics for 1912 showed hospitalization care was provided to 327 patients, with 125 being male and 202 female, and 53 were surgical, 63 obstetrical, and 211 medical. Total deaths numbered 18, the same number of babies delivered. Tubercular patients accounted for nearly three dozen of the total hospital population and there were seven deaths from that disease. During this period, the hospital maintained a staff of five doctors, including two surgeons, one specialist in obstetrics and gynecology, one internist, and one who attended maternity cases. 

Beyond these scant details, there is not a lot of existing documentation relating to the doctors’ daily activities, according to a limited-edition book about the history of Cedars-Sinai Hospital, published for their 2002 centennial. The authors wrote, “with no surviving hospital records to consult, virtually nothing is known about the medical facilities, patient case histories or treatment protocols, specific to Kaspare Cohn Hospital.”  

A 1921 Sanborn map showing the location of the facility beyond Los Angeles city limits along Indiana Street, at the bottom.  From the Los Angeles Public Library.

From the day it opened, the charity hospital continued to operate with a deficit until two events came together to finally set the institution right financially.  First, the old Carroll Avenue house and some adjoining property was sold for $3,300. Then, Cohn, the hospital’s principal benefactor, responded with a donation of $5,300. By 1918, the hospital created a segregated wing with enhanced rooms for paying patients, purchased a new X-Ray machine, and installed an elevator. 

After the completion of some needed repairs, the hospital and property were said to be valued at upwards of $100,000. By the following year, the facility was operating the Jewish Dispensary of Los Angeles, a busy charity clinic in the Bunker Hill area of downtown Los Angeles. The only serious obstacle to their health-care mission was during the flu pandemic of 1918-1919. When the pandemic swept through Los Angeles in the latter part of the year, the hospital was forced to suspend services, except to care for hospital patients, because of a staff shortage after its superintendent and several nurses died and several others became severely ill. Fortunately, the interruption lasted only a few days before services resumed.    

A 1920s photograph of the front of the hospital from Cedars-Sinai: The One-Hundred Year History of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, 1902-2002.

The eastside hospital, however, had to continue to move forward without their steadfast patron, Kaspare Cohn, who died at his home at 2601 South Grand Avenue in 1916 at the age of seventy-six. His large, well-appointed house, constructed in 1900, was located at the southwest corner of Grand and Adams Boulevard, which was in an affluent area of the city where many prominent business figures resided.  For example, Cohn’s business associate and cousin, Harris Newmark, lived nearby at 880 West Adams Boulevard. 

His widow, Hulda Newmark Cohn, lived in the home until 1924 when she sold it to the University of Southern California as a new home for its College of Music, though the structure was demolished not quite a decade later. Pointing to his vast banking and real estate interests, his investments in the region’s early utilities infrastructure, and his support for many of the city’s first Jewish institutions, the Los Angeles Evening Herald noted at the time of his death, “The death of Kaspare Cohn marks the passing of one of the men who helped make Southern California what it is today.”