Old Hospital In Hyde Park Is Now A Memory

CHICAGO (CBS) — A 95-year-old hospital in the Hyde Park neighborhood has been torn down, after closing amid a scandal and sitting vacant for 11 years.

The hospital building at 5800 S. Stony Island Ave. was originally known as Illinois Central Hospital and more recently as Doctors Hospital. It opened in 1916, and occupied a proud place in the tree-lined shadow of the Museum of Science and Industry.

But after sitting idle since the spring of 2000, the hospital met with the wrecking ball between February and this month.

As the Hyde Park Progress blog recalled, the facility started out both as a public hospital, and a free medical facility for all Illinois Central Railroad employees. The railroad sold the hospital in 1973, and it became Hyde Park Community Hospital, then Doctors Hospital, the blog recalled.

In 2000, the owner of Doctors Hospital, eye care physician Dr. James Desnick, filed documents in U.S. Bankruptcy Court. He said the for-profit hospital had racked up $60 million in debts, including a $47 million mortgage for the building, $9.6 million for a line of credit, and $3.1 million in unpaid bills to employee and suppliers.

The hospital closed with little warning on May 11, 2000. CBS 2 Investigator Pam Zekman reported that day that employees didn’t find out until they came to work, and patients at the 240-bed hospital were all transferred out without much warning that day. One patient complained that she was never given back her wheelchair and breathing machine.

Desnick had been the subject of multiple investigations by Zekman, going back to 1988. Federal agents seized hundreds of boxes of records after CBS 2 reported on unnecessary cataract surgery at his Desnick Eye Center, but he ended up selling the center while still under federal investigation.

Desnick bought Doctors Hospital in 1992. At the time, he was praised for saving a desperately needed medical facility on the South Side.

He also ran unsuccessfully for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in 1996.

But after the hospital closed, Desnick suffered more fallout. In a settlement with the U.S. Attorney’s office, he was ordered to pay $14 million on claims that the hospital submitted fraudulent billings, and used a system of kickbacks to recruit patients who might not have been sick.

Desnick did not admit to any wrongdoing in the 23-page settlement, which was issued in December 2000, CBS 2 reported at the time.

For more than a decade afterward, the hospital sat vacant. In 2008, the University of Chicago, which by then owned the land, announced plans to have the Classical Revival-style building torn down for a new Marriott Hotel and Fairfield Inn, Landmarks Illinois reported.

The hotel plan was later scrapped in favor of a new planned hotel on the site of the Harper Court shopping center, on Harper Avenue off 53rd Street. The U of C later announced plans to use the land for an early childhood education campus for its Lab School, according to the Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference.

Preservationists fought the demolition, and alternative plans were issued for reuse of the building, according to Landmarks Illinois. But demolition ultimately went ahead.

Do you have any memories of the old hospital? Share them below.

  • Margaret Jacobs

    I had my first mammogram there, probably in 1968, and it was in a dingy, dark high-ceilinged room. The technology used, seems in retrospect, pretty primitive — huge glass plates or slides. But it’s results that speak. Not at all a pleasant experience, as I didn’t have another one for at least 18 years.

  • Cindy Nowicki

    I took my student nurse’s training there in 1969 to 1971. Also, my mother worked for Illinois Central Hospital and was a patient there. It was a great hospital then. It’s a shame they had to tear it down.

  • Bilinda Nelson

    My grandfather was an employee of Illinois central RR. When he died it was there @ that hospital. Beautiful place,beautiful memories

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