The Kaspare Cohn Hospital and the Mt. Sinai Hospital and Clinic, Part Four

Editor’s note:  Sorry for the delay in getting this fourth part of this great post by Boyle Heights Historical Society Advisory Board member Rudy Martinez published.  This part involves the later ownership of the former Kaspare Cohn Hospital property and introduces us to the early history of Mt. Sinai Hospital.  The fifth and final part of the post will, hopefully, be issued next week, bringing a close to this remarkable history.

In 1933, the Los Angeles Times reported that the Boyle Heights-based Los Angeles Baptist Theological Seminary (LABTS) agreed to purchase the former Kaspare Cohn Hospital building for their growing seminary school. Established in 1927, the seminary had been sharing limited space at the Calvary Baptist Church at Second and St. Louis streets. After less than a decade, however, the LABTS moved back to Boyle Heights to take up residence in 1942 at their newly built headquarters at 2115 E. 6th Street, across from Hollenbeck Park. Two decades later and outgrowing their Boyle Heights facility, the seminary relocated to a 27-acre campus in Placerita Canyon in what is now Santa Clarita. Known today as Master’s University, the school is recognized as one of the largest Christian liberal arts colleges in the nation.

The Whittier Boulevard parcel was purchased by the County of Los Angeles in 1938 and, nine years later, Laguna Park was finally established on the property that was once occupied by a charity Jewish hospital, an experimental cancer clinic, and a Baptist seminary school over more than three decades. As described earlier, the park, badly needed for the eastside, was renamed Ruben Salazar Park in September 1970, in honor of the journalist, columnist, and television news station manager who was struck and killed by a fired tear gas canister during the Chicano Moratorium protest the prior month.

Los Angeles Times, 4 June 1933.

Just as some of the affluent mid-city Jewish families stepped up to support the founding of the Kaspare Cohn Hospital in 1902, the Jewish working class of Boyle Heights also organized local community support to establish another eastside medical institution in 1918. Named the Mount Sinai Hospital (after undergoing several name changes) it moved to the westside in the late 1950s and then merged in 1976 with another former eastside medical facility, Hollywood’s Cedars of Lebanon Hospital (formerly the Kaspare Cohn Hospital, to form today’s Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

In traditional Jewish communities, the sick and ailing poor are often assisted with moral and material support by the Bikur Cholim Society, with the Hebrew bikur cholim translated to “visiting the sick.” During the flu pandemic of 1918, Russian-born Los Angeles mortuary owner and Jewish community leader Charles Groman began operating the Bikur Cholim sanatorium in a small, two-room bungalow, with one flu-stricken patient. 

B’nai B’rith Messenger, 25 July 1919.  From the archives of that paper.

But the Bikur Cholim Society hoped to provide its charity services to the indigent sick and terminally ill in a more spacious dwelling. In 1919, the organization hosted its “first annual picnic,” including games, refreshments, and dancing to a jazz orchestra, on the grounds of the Selig Zoo Park, a combination public zoo and film studio in Lincoln Heights. An apparent success, Bikur Cholim relocated in 1920 to a two-story, nine-room frame house on five-and-one-half acres at 831 N. Bonnie Beach Place. Located on an incline in the northern hills of East Los Angeles, which was then called, Belvedere, it was just below the hilltop boundary of City Terrace. The change also brought a new name to the hospice—the Mount Sinai Home for the Incurables. 

Unlike the support for the Kaspare Cohn Hospital, with its generally more subdued appeals to affluent supporters, the smaller, community-based Mount Sinai hospital was supported with more fervent, public pleas to the working-class residents in the Boyle Heights area. It was an ongoing effort as property taxes needed to be paid and the facility maintained and with the 15 beds usually filled, funds were needed for building modifications, along with more beds, linen, and staff. 

Mt. Sinai Home for the Incurables from the White Plague in L.A. website.

Although benefiting from steady support from orthodox institutions like the Breed Street Shul, Mt. Sinai also garnered support from women’s auxiliary groups, which were especially effective fundraisers, hosting luncheons, dances, Russian tea parties, raffles, and bake sales. The community’s determined effort paid off in 1925 when the facility—already caring for about 30 patients—was licensed by the Los Angeles Public Welfare Commission and commended for its good work. Nevertheless, the growing need for the hospital to offer its patients more wide-ranging medical services made the current building inadequate. The idea for an ambitious campaign to replace the two-story framed house with a new medical facility by the end of 1926 was now the center of the society’s plans. Beginning in 1925, a year-long blitz of fundraisers took place, such as benefit dances at the Ocean Park Auditorium, picnics at the Selig/Luna Park Zoo, and shows at the Orpheum, featuring vaudeville stars, “juvenile danseuses” violinists, and “golden-tongued orators.”   

Since 1920, much of the communal support was organized and supported by an array of Boyle Heights-based mutual-aid and fraternal organizations, such as the Baker’s Union Local 453, the Workman’s Circle, the Women’s Consumers’ Educational League, and the Folke Shul Center on Soto Street. Advocates for a strong, Yiddish-centered culture, they also shared ideological roots in socialist principles, such as fervent participation in trade union activism—a radical stance in the aggressive, open-shop (non-union) environment of Los Angeles. The success of the intensive fundraising activity led to the unveiling in February 1926 of architectural plans for the new building, with construction taking place soon thereafter. 

Images of the Mt. Sinai facilities from the archives of the B’nai B’rith Messenger.

On November 7, a formal opening dedication was held for the new, 50-bed, one-story brick and concrete building that featured a long outdoor porch, a spacious corridor bisecting the building and which divided the men’s and women’s wards, a kosher kitchen, a physician’s laboratory, a small auditorium, an audio paging system, and a room equipped to perform minor surgery. As could be expected, maintaining a publicly-supported charity hospital demanded constant appeals for financial support, with local community backing insufficient to cover the facility’s increased expenses.  

In 1928, the hospital board elected Peter Kahn (1878-1952) as the president of the Mt. Sinai Home for the Incurables. Before arriving in the United States in the early 1900s and becoming a locally successful produce distributor, the Ukraine-born Kahn was an active socialist with the revolutionary Labor Jewish Bund.  With that organization, he organized trade unions and labor strikes in defense of Jewish workers in Poland and Russia, earning him several stints in jail. This kind of activity, however, was not an entirely unusual background for the number of Yiddish-speaking Eastern European Jews arriving in Boyle Heights after 1910.  

The Mt. Sinai Hospital from a history of Cedars-Sinai Hospital.

In 1929, under Kahn, the hospice again changed its name to the slightly-less grim-sounding Mount Sinai Home for the Chronic Invalids. It was also a period when “old money” patrons from the Jewish westside started to play a more prominent fundraising role in support of the Mt. Sinai Home.   This was exemplified by a 1929 star-studded fundraiser at the Shrine Auditorium, featuring film stars Joan Crawford and Norma Shearer and renowned singer and comedian Sophie Tucker.  Four years later, there was a large outdoor event called the “Oklahoma Stampede and Thrills of the Air Show” staged at the  Rose Bowl in Pasadena and sponsored by the Central Labor Council. The participation of big-name entertainers continued with a 1936 all-star baseball game at Wrigley Field (one of several) featuring such major celebrities as Bing Crosby, George Burns, Eddie Cantor, and George Raft. 

But in the following year, the work of a local Boyle Heights artist would also reveal the seemingly philosophical divide between the working-class supporters of the Mount Sinai Home, and its “old-money” patrons, over what kind of image they wanted to project to the broader community.