Let’s Talk Clovis: 1915 and 1920 Clovis Sanitariums and 1944 Clovis Sierra Vista Hospital

The first Clovis Sanitarium opened in 1915 inside the DeWitt Building (second from corner) on Pollasky Avenue. (CONTRIBUTED BY CLOVIS MUSEUM)

Early Clovis pioneers relied on home remedies and traveling physicians to provide their medical needs. Doctors were on duty 24 hours, seven days a week. They often traveled by horse, buggy and bicycle. Patients were nursed and birthed at home where extended care was usually provided by family members.

The most serious cases were placed in the 1877 Fresno County Hospital. Its boundaries were Mariposa and Tulare, Q and R Streets. The original cost of the hospital was $3,527. The hospital’s patient capacity was 20.

In 1906, Mr. H.G. DeWitt built a two-story brick building on the east side of Pollasky between Fourth and Fifth streets. Luther Weldon and Amos Kirkpatrick built the two-story, 100-by-82-foot structure. Commercial businesses were on the first floor with 12 to 14 rooms and a stage upstairs.

The first Clovis sanitarium, owned and managed by registered nurse Miss Julia E. Rowley, opened on Monday, Nov. 8, 1915 in the DeWitt Building. Frank Drury, realtor and manager for DeWitt, had redesigned the upper floor of the building. Drury assured citizens that all needs of a first class sanitarium, including an operating room, had been met.

Miss Rowley was assisted by Miss Waddington who was also a skilled nurse. Miss Leta Weems was their first patient. It was reported that Clovis physicians welcomed this “well-equipped sanitarium.”

By 1918, Miss Rowley recognized the need for a larger facility and purchased property on the southeast corner of Sierra and North DeWitt. Orchards and vineyards were visible directly west of this site. The new sanitarium had six private rooms and an operating room.

A Clovis Tribune May 29, 1919 article stated: “Since the Sanitarium was opened upward of 350 cases have been received and treated and among all the serious cases but seven proved fatal, five of the seven being considered very serious when admitted, leaving the two cases of unexpected deaths. This is an unusually low percentage of fatalities in such a large number of operative cases.”

Miss Rowley had personally financed the sanitarium. Shortage of operating funds closed the sanitarium in 1920. The historic hospital was converted to and remains a home.

Dr. McMurtry arrived in Clovis in 1904. He purchased the home of R.E.L. Good at 430 Pollasky in 1920 and converted it into a sanitarium. The 1896, nine-room home had been built by A.E.D. Scott, the Superintendent of the Fresno Flume and Irrigation.

In 1939, Drs. James and Clayton Pendergrass, sons of Dr. William C. Pendergrass, purchased the sanitarium from Dr. McMurtry.

Mrs. Reynolds, proprietor of the Clovis Maternity Home which was formerly the Clovis Thayer Birthing Home (northeast corner of DeWitt and Third), moved her practice to the renovated sanitarium. A total of 12 beds were available.

The sanitarium was closed in 1959 and demolished in 1961. State Center Bank built on the site. The Educational Employees Credit Union is now located there. The magnolia tree that was planted in 1896 still provides shade and beauty for their customers.

Doctor of Obstetrics Wilbur Lose (1911-2002) arrived in Clovis in 1941. On May 8, 1944 he founded the Sierra Vista Hospital at the 1902 Hoblitt Hotel located on the northwest corner of Fourth and Pollasky. His maternity hospital license provided for a capacity of three beds. He is credited with delivering 800 babies during his Clovis practice from 1941-1968. Pictures of the babies and their mothers are can be reviewed at the Museum.

Dr. Lose’s agreement with the California Department of Public Health granted a per diem rate of $7 that would include all services provided by the hospital. The state denied his $9.78 claim as excessive.

He closed the hospital in 1948 and joined six doctors to establish the Sequoia Hospital in Fresno.

In 1955, a corporation was formed to raise funds to build a modern acute hospital but that is another future story.

Our rich heritage of quality health continues with the growth of the Clovis Community Hospital at Herndon and Temperance.

Peg Bos is the president of the Clovis Museum on 4th and Pollasky avenues in Old Town Clovis. She not only manages the museum but she also writes her Let's Talk Clovis column in our publication which features and highlight the amazing history of our city and culture. One fun fact about Peg Bos, she was the first female mayor of Clovis from 1984-86.