Uptown Medical Timeline

Hillcrest has been a center for medical facilities for over a century. Three large hospitals: Mercy, Naval and UCSD (formerly County) form a triangle around Hillcrest and have led to a proliferation of medical offices and clinics throughout the neighborhood. Below is a brief timeline of important events in the growth of our medical community.

1880s ~ “Dr. William A. Edwards’ Sanitarium and Private Hospital, is situated on the crest of Florence Heights and overlooks the city and bay. It is accessible by two lines of streetcars and is replete with all that is essential for the comfort of invalids. None but well trained nurses are employed, and every facility is at hand for the skillful performance of surgical operations. The surroundings are pleasant and make this a most desirable home for those seeking change of climate, combined with skillful nursing and medical supervision.”

— J.P. Lefevre, M.D., County Physician, report to the San Diego County Hospital Board of Supervisors.

1889 ~ The first semi-permanent home of the County Hospital is built at the Poor Farm in Mission Valley. The Poor Farm is located on the former Jose Maria Estudillo property just north of Hillcrest. Bed capacity is 60 patients. Indigent sick (those who could not afford to pay for medical care) perform chores either in the hospital or on the farm. Food is raised on the 140-acre grounds including, vegetables, chickens, figs, apricots and peaches. The 35.6-mile San Diego Flume, also finishied this year, supplies fresh mountain water for the hospital and farm. Two “first class windmills”provide the power for pumping water. [more on the Poor Farm]

1890 ~ Mother Michael Cummings and Sister Alphonsus Cox arrive in San Diego and establish the community’s first hospital on the corner of Sixth Avenue and  H (now Market) Street. With only $50 between them, they opened the five-bed St. Joseph’s Dispensary. Within hours after opening they received their first patient, a malaria victim named John O’Connell.

St Joes Hospital

1891 ~ The Sisters of Mercy open St. Joseph’s Sanitarium at Eighth and University (the present day Kelly’s Treasures (previously House of HeirSisters of Mercylooms)/Jack in the Box corner). The initial 19-bed, three-story hospital and 10-acre site cost $5,000.

1903 ~ St. Joseph’s Training School for Nurses opens, graduating its first ten students on May 31, 1906. Buildings that housed the student nurses still exist on Eighth Avenue north of University (Friendship Hotel).

1904 ~ San Diego County Hospital opens at the north end of Front Street on mesa overlooking Mission Valley. Total cost is about $60,000. The 90 patients residing in the previous county medical institution, the County Poor Farm in Mission Valley, are transferred up the hill on May 15th. A fourth floor is added in 1910 and a five-story east wing in 1926.

St. Joseph’s Hospital grounds expand along the north side of University Avenue. The total number of beds grows to 220.

1912 ~ Alma Theobald, a graduate of Notre Dame and registered nurse, opens the Hillcrest Sanitarium in a rented house at 4235 Fifth Street. The sanitarium is noted for its peaceful residential character and excellent cuisine. She later moves her nursing home to 208 West Laurel and renamed it Theobald Sanitarium.

1914 ~ The 4th Marine Regiment Field Hospital moves from North Island to Balboa Park to serve the Panama-California Exposition. When the Navy leases the park as a training facility in 1917, the field hospital grows to a 50-bed War Dispensary, occupying in the former Park Police Headquarters.

1919 ~ The Navy ceases training operations in Balboa Park. The Dispensary remains in operation while a permanent Naval Hospital is built on 17.35 acres deeded to the Navy on Inspiration Point. The dispensary is renamed Navy Hospital on May 20, 1919.

801 University Avenue (the building currently occupied by House of Heirlooms) is erected as a surgery annex for St. Joseph’s Hospital.

1922 ~ Naval Hospital Balboa Park is commissioned on 22 August with initial capacity of 250 beds. Naval Secretary Navy-HospitalJosephus Daniels personally chose the Inspiration Point site so “convalescent sailors can sit on the laws and look far beyond Point Loma to see the ships that ply up and down the Pacific.”

A new trolley station is constructed on the Park Street Line to serve the facility. The Spanish-Revival complex was designed by architects from the Bureau of Yards and Docks. The government paid the $1.1 million cost while the Red Cross donated a $47,000 recreation hall.

1924 ~ St. Joseph’s medical center moves to a new campus of Mediterranean Revival buildings on a promontory overlooking Mission Valley. Fifth Avenue is extended north of Washington, curving along the canyon rim, to terminate at the hospital entrance. In addition to the six-story building, the grounds house Mercy School of Nursing, a convent and a chapel.

1925-1946 ~ John D. Spreckels bequeaths $300,000 allowing St, Joseph’s hospital  to increase capacity to 325 beds…making it the city’s largest public hospital.

1932 ~ Mercy Hospital School of Nursing changes name to Mercy College of Nursing.

1941 ~ Voters affirm land grant of 21.32 acres to allow the Naval Hospital to construct two double-decked barracks on Florida Drive. The park nursery, which had previously occupied this site, was moved at the Navy’s expense. On the eve of WWII the hospital complex consists of 56 buildings with a bed capacity of 1,424.

1943 ~ WWII requires the Navy to greatly expand hospital facilities in San Diego. They temporarily take possession of the Natural History Museum, Museum Man and the Fine Arts Gallery — all to be used as a Navy Hospital Annex until 1948. A nurses dorm was located in the House of Hospitality and the lily pond was briefly used as a swimming pool. During WWII approximately 172,000 patients were treated at the naval hospital.

1945 ~ By the end of war, the Naval Hospital grows to 241 buildings with a bed capacity of 10,499. The Naval Hospital interdenominational chapel was dedicated in January on land the city had originally granted for recreation purposes.

1953 ~ The Naval hospital treats about 90,000 patients during the Korean conflict.

1956 ~ State engineers declare that the County Hospital’s structure is unsafe. Two years later the County supervisors vote to build a 600-bed replacement.

1961 ~ Naval hospital bed capacity is 1,650.

1963 ~ County Hospital moves into the present eleven-story building across the street from the old facility. The $12.5 million facility requires three years of construction and has since been clad with earthquake reinforcement.

1966 ~ The eleven-story Mercy Hospital building opens north of Washington Street. The original hospital is mostly razed. One tall elevator shaft is retained connecting the east entrance to clinics and the new hospital. The upper area of the elevator shaft remains unused.

USCD School of Medicine leases the County Hospital for $350,000 a year, renaming it University Hospital.

1970 ~ Mercy Hospital becomes San Diego’s first paramedic base station. Graduation of the final class from Mercy College of Nursing.

1972 ~ The Veterans administration opens a $48 million hospital adjacent to UCSD Hospital.

1977 ~ San Diego Hospice is founded.

1980 ~ UCSD decides to buy University Hospital, now called UCSD Medical Center, from the county for $17 million. The operating agreement includes a commitment to care for indigent patients.

1987 ~ University Pharmacy (now Priority Pharmacy) begins to fill scripts for AZT, the first available prescription for treatment of HIV/AIDS. AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACTUP) San Diego is founded.

1992 ~ To attract more insured patients, UCSD expands and remodels their facility at a cost of $37 millio

1995 ~ Mercy Hospital joins with Scripps Health but retains a connection with Sisters of Mercy.

2002 ~ US News & World Report names Scripps Mercy one of the top 50 US hospitals for senior health care. Fit Pregnancy magazine says Mercy is one of top US hospitals in which to have a baby.

2004 ~ The building which is now the new home of Scripps Mercy Surgery Pavilion at Fifth and Washington is completely remodeled.

2005 ~ UCSD Medical Center announces “A New Vision for Healthcare” with plans to move its trauma program to La Jolla, leaving only emergency services at the Hillcrest campus. Scripps Mercy will be the only San Diego County trauma center south of I-8. Many objections follow. The decision is ultimately reversed. UCSD Medical Center makes Hillcrest their home.

2013 ~ San Diego Hospice files for bankruptcy after federal investigation. Highest bidder Scripps Health takes over and vows continues to serve the community as a hospice facility. Sharp HealthCare was the other bidder for the property.