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The White Plague in the City of Angels

Caroline Luce, Author

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The City of Hope - A Jewish National Medical Center, 1949

As the medical science surrounding the diagnosis and treatment of tuberculosis progressed, the leaders of the JCRA’s sanatorium recognized that they could expand the facility’s offerings beyond the treatment of tuberculosis. Dr. Jacob J. Singer, who also served as Medical Director at Cedars of Lebanon Hospital, had ushered in changes in the way the sanatorium treated its patients upon his appointment in 1942, and the leaders of the institution began planning ways that they might expand the facility’s offerings. Samuel Golter, the Executive Director of the City of Hope, announced an ambitious new campaign to raise funds to erect an enormous new hospital to replace the smaller medical buildings where tubercular patients had been receiving treatment for three decades.

Golter had served as the superintendent of the sanatorium since 1926, but was thrust into a position of leadership in 1932 when the acting Executive Director resigned suddenly. The sanatorium, which had operated in “financial hot water most of the time,” was now on the verge of bankruptcy, having amassed over $200,000 of debt since the onset of the Depression. Golter set out on a nation-wide fundraising campaign, targeting three primary constituencies with newly urgent appeals: women, particularly those in “upper social cliques,” who he encouraged to form Auxiliaries; young people, who he called on to form “Juniors” groups; and trade unions, that, boosted by new legislative protections for collective bargaining, showed an eagerness to “take care of their own.” After two years of traveling, Golter had increased the number of the sanatorium’s Auxiliaries to over thirty, with new groups established in Detroit, Milwaukee, Philadelphia and Portland, and several new groups in California. Large donations from wealthier philanthropists, including actor Al Jolson, also helped Golter’s efforts to save the sanatorium. By the end of the 1930s, he had raised enough money to wipe away the JCRA’s debts and begin expanding its existing facilities. [36]

During his travels across the country, Golter began to imagine even greater possibilities for the City of Hope. Hitler’s destructive campaign in Europe was unfolding in the same period, and Golter began to contemplate the ways that the City of Hope could help to revitalize the Jewish community and American society in the process. As he described it:
“I felt more than ever that in enlarging the scope of our services we could satisfy both of the entities within man – the spiritual as well as the physical. Our functional program which was dedicated to the saving and prolonging of human life would serve man’s physical self, and personal participation in furthering that humanitarian objective would fortify and strengthen his spiritual self.” [37]

Golter envisioned the City of Hope as a comprehensive medical center that would offer free treatment for a variety of diseases on the same nonsectarian basis as it had for tuberculosis. He also imagined an on-site medical school where scientists could research the causes and cures for diseases treated there. His proposal was approved by the Board of Directors at a meeting in May, 1946, helped by Merck & Co.’s announcement of their clinical trials for streptomycin, a drug that promised a “cure” for tuberculosis. At the City of Hope’s Bi-Annual Convention a few months later, Golter’s medical menter proposal, and his estimated $7 million budget for the project, were approved. 

By 1949, the JCRA had officially changed the facility’s name from the “Los Angeles Sanatorium” to “The City of Hope – A Jewish National Medical Center.” The first wave of funds was used to build a new cancer center on the campus and to initiate a variety of new research initiatives. Golter saw parallels between cancer and tuberculosis, as symptoms of both diseases were often ignored until it was “too late” because of the fear and anxiety surrounding the diagnosis. He called for the creation of a Tumor and Allied Diseases Hospital to offer specialized care and attract leaders in the field to investigate new ways of treating the disease. The Executive Board abandoned its one-time plan to build a large medical school on the campus, and instead collaborated with the University of California, Los Angeles, to build a research institute on the campus to be staffed by its students and faculty members.

The research institute pioneered studies on a broad spectrum of diseases and scientific topics, including groundbreaking studies into genetics, chemotherapy, neurotransmitters. The leaders of the City of Hope invested in new equipment and laboratory space and recruited leading experts in a variety of fields, including Riojun Kinosita, M.D., Ph.D., who served as the inaugural director of the research institute and chemotherapy pioneer Howard Bierman, M.D., who served as research director in 1955. Doctors at the medical center performed their first bone-marrow transplant in 1976 and their innovative approaches to treating cancer continue to this day. The City of Hope is now one of the premier Comprehensive Cancer Centers in the world. To learn more about their research programs and the City of Hope’s innovative approaches to biomedical research, click here

But even as the City of Hope shifted its programming and placed increasing emphasis on research and treatment of other diseases, the institution retained significant elements of its original sanatorium style. The leaders of the institution preserved its emphasis on comprehensive and holistic care, and continued to find new ways to improve the experiences of its patients in residence on their campus. The Social Services Department, which was developed in the late 1920s to direct job training programs geared to making tubercular patients “self-sufficient,” expanded over the course of several decades and endures to this day. Following the opening of their special wing for children suffering from leukemia, the City of Hope inaugurated a new Parents Participation Program to improve the experience for parents whose sick children were staying in the ward. Echoing the cottages that had composed the original campus, they erected a set of twenty residential units they called “Hope Village” where the families of sick patients could live on campus and work with social workers, doctors and occupational therapists to learn how to care for their children as they made the transition out of the hospital. In addition to their groundbreaking scientific research, the City of Hope continues to innovate new ways of improving patient care and to treat not only their physical symptoms, but as they describe, to “treat the whole person.” 

Amidst these innovative developments, Sam Golter was himself diagnosed with cancer. Having been motivated to involve himself in the sanatorium because of his admiration for its founders’ beliefs, Golter set about to ensure that the City of Hope would remain committed to its founding principles after his leadership of the institution passed. At the Convention in 1953, he presented a new credo for those affiliated with the institution based on the “three pillars on which the City of Hope stands: service, humanitarianism, and reward” and translated them into a functional program for the institution. His “Thirteen Articles of Faith” attempted to ensure that the City of Hope’s fundraising efforts would continue to be based in a “People’s Movement” like the grassroots effort of its founders that had created the Jewish Consumptive Relief Association in 1912. Although Golter retired shortly after he presented the report, his philosophy continued to guide the City of Hope’s fundraising strategies and its development to the present day.
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