Ask a Librarian

Sunset Hospital

by Alethea Drexler, archives assistant
One of the things that I find persistently frustrating is the speed, ease, and totality with which older hospitals disappear.
Many, many, times I’ve received inquiries about such-and-such a hospital and started looking around for information, only to discover that, not only do we not have any material about it in our collection, but the primary Internet hits are the postcard images of it we have on our own website!  Nothing like following your trail in a circle, right?  It’s shocking how quickly this information disappears unless someone makes an effort to preserve it.
Functionally, hospitals are often absorbed into larger hospital systems, which enables them to offer more services more easily to the people they serve.  Physically, however, older buildings are occasionally reused, but frequently torn down once they are too small and too outdated to serve modern needs.  Our postcard boxes are full of pictures of beautiful buildings that no longer exist.  When I travel around Texas, I’m always thrilled to find an old hospital building still in use (as anything, even if it’s no longer a hospital).
Houston, however, is lucky to have several of its older hospital buildings still intact and in use.  The 1925 Hermann Hospital, of course, still stands in the Texas Medical Center and is part of the Memorial Hermann Healthcare System.  The 1924 Jefferson David Hospital building, visible from I-45 just north of downtown, was converted from illicit ghost-hunting mecca to apartments a few years ago (it’s 1938 Art Deco successor was, unfortunately, imploded in 1999).
One of the buildings I noticed in particular when I was doing some work with our postcards was the Sunset Hospital.

Sunset Hospital

(Click on the image for a larger version.)

The other side, postmarked 1913.

(Pierce City, Missouri, is roughly between Joplin and Springfield.)
It’s a striking  building.  The combination Mission Revival/Prairie style architecture caught my eye first, as did the relatively early date of the postmark.
Originally, the Sunset Hospital was operated by the Southern Pacific Railroad.  In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, railroads, along with mining, lumber, steel, and other large industrial companies, owned and operated their own hospitals.  The Railway Surgery website has a good condensed history.
According to Francis White Johnson’s A History of Texas and Texans, Volume 4, the Southern Pacific Railroad came into Houston in 1885, and the hospital building opened in 1911, which sounds about right for the style.  It would have been a substantial building for a developing city that early in the century.
The Sunset Hospital is now part of the Harris County Hospital District and continues to serve as the Thomas Street Clinic.  If you scroll down, you can see a more recent picture on the Railway Surgery photo pages.
I kept meaning to go find it some Saturday when I had a little spare time.  As it turns out, I drive by it twice a day, five days a week, on my way to work and back, I just didn’t realize it until I went past it one day as a passenger in my mother’s car, when I could admire the scenery instead of watching the road.  The back of the building is easily visible from the freeway.
1943 article from the Galveston News.  The Sunset Hospital sent blood plasma to treat victims of a hotel fire.
Webpage about a Southern Pacific boiler explosion in San Antonion in 1912; it notes that several of the injured were moved to the “company hospital in Houston“.
The Rotarian magazine, June 20, 1913, reports that the hospital cost half a million dollars.  I think that would be about $11 or $12 million now.