Firland Sanatorium was Seattle’s first public tuberculosis sanatorium. Land was given for the facility by railroad magnate Horace Henry, in memory of his son who died of the disease, and funded by a $125,000 bond. Henry Sanatorium (later renamed Firland) opened May 2, 1911 with only tents and 2 patients, some 12 miles north of the city limits in the sparsely inhabited area of Richmond Highlands (modern day Shoreline). There was no road access to the land; supplies had to be brought in by wheel-barrow (not paved until 1913). Local reformers, the King County Anti-Tuberculosis League, made many attempts to build the hospital closer in to the city. But they were thwarted at each turn by citizens unwilling to live next to such a facility. Some worried about the spread of disease, while many more were concerned about plummeting home values and the infiltration of the poor of the city into their neighborhoods. The agreed upon location of Firland was sufficiently far from the city to both exile the tubercular and maintain elite property values.
Wealth Over Health: Queen Anne’s Fight to Maintain Property Values against the Building of a Tuberculosis Treatment Center
The wagon wheels creaked and the horses strained as the workmen took another load of lumber and tents up the hill towards Queen Anne where the King County Anti-Tuberculosis League (ATBL) was assembling a new tuberculosis tent-camp. In 1909 Queen Anne, situated on a rolling hill with its beautiful views of the city and Lake Union on one side and the Sound on the other, was conveniently located near downtown, but miles away from the dirt and disease of the working class and industrial districts on the south side of the city.
At the onset of the 20th century tuberculosis was the number one killer in the city of Seattle. A disease caused just as much by factory pollution, overwork, and malnutrition as by the tubercle bacillus bacterium TB was ubiquitous in the burgeoning American industrial working class. In Seattle the tuberculosis epidemic was so bad that in 1908 the US Office of Public Health named the city as the worst in the nation when it comes to tuberculosis control. With the Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition only one year away public health reformers in Seattle decided it was time to get serious about TB control.
As the workers climbed up the hill toward the camp they must have felt a sense of trepidation. The residents of Queen Anne, some of the wealthiest in the Emerald City, had already chased out the proposed Children’s Orthopedic Hospital the year prior complaining that it would bring “deformed and crippled” tubercular children to the neighborhood. In a letter of protest filed with the mayor they argued that the mere “sight of said crippled and deformed children being constantly before the residents in the vicinity of said hospital will be a constant source of annoyance” especially to women with “certain conditions of health” and could even potentially “hideously deform” their own children.
Shortly after this protest against Children’s forty acres in north Queen Anne were donated to the ATBL by Colonel Thomas W. Prosch, a well known and respected city booster. Almost immediately the residents began to organize to throw out the proposed tuberculosis encampment. Speaking for Queen Anne residents the Ross Improvement Club warned that while they did “express [their] sympathy for the sufferers of the dreaded disease tuberculosis” they would “take and support all necessary steps by proceedings in court, or otherwise, to prevent the establishing of such consumptive colony.”
Workers continued hauling material up to the camp even as Queen Anne residents filed an injunction to stop the construction. Doctors connected with the Anti-TB League had tried to assure the residents that they had nothing to fear from the camp with regard to public health. One Dr. Davidson suspected motives beyond health concerns in the Queen Anne protests telling the Seattle Times, “The people are frightened needlessly, and it appears to be real estate men who are stirring up all the trouble.”
As the workers approached the site they found a mob of angry residents wielding brooms blocking their way. The “broomstick brigade” began to chase the workers out of the area; the ATBL was going to need to find a new location for the much needed tuberculosis camp. The Queen Anne residents had upheld their position from the previous year’s fight against Children’s Hospital that “under no circumstances” would such facilities “be built in a choice residential portion of the city” like Queen Anne.
Furious at the camp debacle city health commissioner James Crichton railed against those that sought to block the hospital in the Bulletin of the Department of Health and Sanitation for having “dared to strike the man that was down, without reason and without excuse.” He stated forcefully that it is the opinion of the department that there is “an element which has fought against the proper care and treatment of these unfortunates… for financial reasons pure and simple, fearing that it might depreciate the price of real estate. They have cast aside all humanitarism (sic) and have the dollar above a man’s life.” Crichton concludes with the a veiled threat, “We wish to further impress upon… our citizens that while they and their families may be in good financial condition today and all in good health… this may not always be the case, and to bear in mind that one person out of seven… must die of consumption. Will it be… your baby, wife, sweetheart, mother?”
Of course Crichton’s outrage was more than a little hypocritical. A longtime city councilman for Queen Anne he had served during the flap over Children’s Hospital a year earlier. While on the council he tried to push through a resolution that would make the construction of a hospital for the treatment of “crippled persons” illegal without first getting the consent of all the residents living within a 300 foot radius of the building site. Crichton was explicit about the reasoning for this stating, “No one who has investigated or even considered this hospital proposition will deny that residence property within a certain distance will be injured to some extent.” “It is to avoid this” that Crichton suggested that the city buy a tract of land three miles outside of the city “far enough away from any residences” to oppose its construction. Crichton’s plea to maintain the property values of the city’s wealthy elite was paired with an article in the Seattle Times where ten prominent doctors personally endorsed the safety and efficacy of the hospital in its proposed Queen Anne location.
When Crichton made this impassioned argument for the city to come to the aid of the wealthy in danger of being faced with the reality of “crippled and deformed children” he was a doctor serving on the public health committee of the city council, one month away from being declared the new head of the department of health. His decision to block the building of Children’s was a decision not based in any consideration of medicine or public health, it was a decision based on purely class lines. The geographic class boundaries that had been established around Queen Anne giving it the characteristic exclusivity its residents demanded had to be maintained so Crichton moved to “strike the man that was down,” to use his words, and stop the hospital construction.
The wealthy of Seattle had moved into the hills surrounding the city center to get away from the “wretched community of animalism,” as the Times referred to the urban poor, found in the downtown slums, in the Skid Road area, and squatting in shacks on the tide flats. Neighborhoods like Queen Anne represented a class cordon sanitaire where the gentle fledgling aristocracy could hide safely from the brutes which they employed in their factories, shipyards, etc. These neighborhoods were not just refuges for the more refined elements of society, but quickly became massively valuable investments by themselves promoting even more activism around protecting their exclusive upper class status. If the poor were allowed in then the geographic class barriers that maintained high property values could potentially collapse. So when hospitals that were perceived as dealing in the illnesses and afflictions of the poor were proposed to be built in or near wealthy neighborhoods, these neighborhoods shouted back, “Not in my backyard!” (NIMBY)
NIMBY politics are most frequently associated with the post-war suburb boom, but the response of Queen Anne residents to the proposed Children’s Hospital building site and ATBL tent encampment were textbook examples of NIMBY politics at work. Regarding Children’s residents cited the size of the plot, perceived health risks, and even aesthetic concerns with the hospital but ultimately, as Councilman Crichton so bluntly stated, their complaint boiled down to the devaluing impact that such construction might have on property in a “choice residential portion of the city.”
Facing stiff resistance from city elites more concerned with property values than human life it was not until local railroad baron Horace Henry stepped up and offered 35 acres of land safely located well outside of the city limits that the construction of a permanent tuberculosis encampment could be taken seriously. Henry Sanatorium (later renamed Firland) opened May 2, 1911 consisting of only tents, no permanent structures, and just 2 patients. Some 12 miles north of the city limits in the sparsely inhabited area of Richmond Highlands the property was located west of the Seattle-Everett Inter-Urban trolley line. There was no road access to the land; supplies had to be brought in by wheel-barrow (not paved until 1913). The sanatorium was sufficiently far from the city to both exile the tubercular and maintain elite property values.
The struggle over where to locate facilities for treating tubercular patients in Seattle was hopelessly entangled in the politics of class. The young city's poor were segregated and trapped in the slums on the south side of downtown and the wealthy perched on the hills surrounding the city (particularly Queen Anne and Capital Hill). The fight over the right to the city (the right to live where one wants and to define the use of city space) became an integral part of the struggle to reduce TB in Seattle.