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Friday, May 7, 2010

Tuberculosis Sanitorium

My father lost both of his parents to tuberculosis in the 1930s. For thousands of years, the disease was known as consumption, and had no cure and no treatment. The classic symptoms are a chronic cough with blood-tinged sputum, fever, night sweats, and weight loss.

In the mid-19th century, the first institutions were built to care for sufferers. Intially, TB was treated by diet and fresh air at specialized hospitals. Even with these sanitoriums available throughout Europe, the disease continued to spread.

In the early 1900s, when Lake County doctor, W.H. Watterson contracted TB, he discovered that there were no facilities in the region to treat it. After his cure, Wattersonalong with Dr. Elva A. Wrightorganized the Lake County Tuberculosis Institute.

From 1909 - 1914, a sanitorium was located on 16 acres on Grand Avenue, east of Greenbay Road in Waukegan. "Lake Breeze Sanitorium" cared for 66 patients. Residents lived in cottages or tents and paid a monthly fee for housing and food. Stays at the facility could last years, but in many cases this treatment of fresh air and a good diet was ineffective. Lake Breeze Sanitorium cottages, also known as Camp Breeze, on Grand Avenue in Waukegan, circa 1910 - BBDM 77.13

If people could not afford the sanitorium they would remain at home, often isolated from other family members. In the case of my grandmother, Marie, she stayed in a small cottage behind her parents' home in Sturtevant, Wisconsin.

In 1939, a 90-bed sanitorium was constructed on Belvidere Street in Waukegan, adjacent to today's Belvidere Park. The building was modern in design and became nationally known for its unique architecture.The building was designed by William L. Pereira and William A. Ganster of Ganster and Hennighausen. Pereira and Ganster's work was featured in a 1944 Museum of Modern Art exhibition in New York, featuring architectural achievements.

Sanitorium under construction, 1939 - BBDM 77.13

Sanitorium lobby. Photo by Hedrich-Blessing Studio, Chicago, circa 1940 - BBDM 77.20.

By the 1940s, the emphasis on the need for fresh air was gone, and patient rooms looked much as they do today. TB Sanitorium room. Photo by Hedrich-Blessing Studio, Chicago, circa 1940 - BBDM 77.13

The first vaccine for TB was developed at the Pasteur Institute in France between 1905 and 1921. Mass vaccination against TB did not begin until after World War II. Also in the 1940s, a series of antibiotics were developed to combat the disease.

Diagnosis relies on chest X-rays, a tuberculin skin test, blood tests, as well as microscopic examination and microbiological culture of bodily fluids. Treatment is difficult and requires long courses of multiple antibiotics. Sanitorium examination room, circa 1940 - BBDM 77.20

"Get Your Free Chest X-Ray Here" is painted on the front of this mobile tuberculosis unit, circa 1955. Photo by The Gerstenslager Company, Wooster, Ohio - BBDM 2009.13.1.

Beginning in 1974, the TB Sanitorium building was used by the Lake County Health Department for offices and clinical visits.

Update: When I wrote this post in 2010, the fate of the building and whether the Health Department would continue to use it were in discussion.

Fortunately, the "Belvidere Medical Building" continues to operate as part of the Lake County Health Department and serve the community.


Anonymous said...

I work here, And WOW, what a difference. The lobby in 1940's looks like a posh hotel, now its sad..just so sad looking. The end of your article mentions the LCHD vacating. That is not the case. we are still there! With no end in sight! I shared this with my coworkers because we could never in a million years think that this place looked so nice. Its a dump now. Wonderful to see the history of a "historic" building. Sad it has fallen (literally,its sinking) into disrepair.

Diana Dretske said...

Thank you for your comments. It is a tragedy that such a lovely building has been neglected and allowed to deteriorate. And thank you for the update that the Health Dept. is still there!

Best wishes,


Grandma said...

My mother died there on 3 Feb 1945, after 11 months of hospitalization. Although I wan only 2 1/2 at the time, I remember when Grandma took me to see Mommy. We were walking down the long hallway, which I remember as being deserted. Then my mother came out of her room down near the end of the hall. She was wearing her blue silk robe and had her arms open to me.

Mary Hennighausen said...

My father designed that building. Once when visiting NYC I saw a photo of it at the MoMA.

Diana Dretske said...

Thanks for commenting, Mary. Your father has quite the legacy here in Lake County, since he also designed our courthouse.

Your comment made me realize I did not credit him in my post! I will correct that oversight.

If you have any additional information or photos you'd like to share, please contact me at

Best wishes,


Peggy said...

My aunt worked here in the 1960s but I don't think it was called a TB Sanitarium anymore at that time. I thought she worked for Lake County Hospital. Does anyone know when it ceased to be identified as a TB facility and whether at any point, say in the 1960s, was it a site for Lake County Hospital?

Diana Dretske said...

The Lake County General Hospital was always located on Grand Avenue in Waukegan and closed in 1972. The Tuberculosis Sanitarium was always the building on Belvidere in Waukegan and closed in 1974. Thanks for reading!

Gerald Hennighaused said...

This building was designed by my father Mr. Arthur A Hennighausen, Mr. Ganster was his business partner in the firm of Ganster and Hennighausen. This building was however the singular work of my father. Their office policy was that each got their own jobs and the only shared the office expenses. The office was located on the 3rd floor of 222 Washingtonon st. Waukegan Illinois. Their phone number for all the years was On2-2223. Father was given this job and with it he was allowed to design everything such as the light fixtures, chairs. beds. all furnishings inside and out. This building was declared by the Britannica people as the best designed building of the decade of the 1940's and included as such in their publishing's. After this work, father stayed with publicly paid work primarily schools and a few commercial projects as the north Shore Gas office on Grand Ave.; that was awarded the best use of aluminum in the world by Renalds Aluminum for
the year it was completed.

Diana Dretske said...

It's a truly remarkable and beautiful building. Thank you for sharing these insights into your father's work. Very much appreciated!


David said...

Before I could work as a student dishwasher in the Highland Park High School kitchen in the late 50s, I had to go to the sanitarium for a TB test.

Anonymous said...

My grandfather was a patient here in 1971. At the time, children were not allowed to visit him and I remember standing outside in front of the buildng below his room. He would toss candy down to my brother and me. Sadly, my grandfather passed away at the sanitarium.

Unknown said...

I'm following records that have lead me to believe I may have possibly had a 2nd great grandpa who worked here 'Frank Pekala'. I'm not 100% sure he is indeed related by blood but I'm 99.9999% sure at this point. He listed James o. Parramore Hospital on his WWII draft approximately 1940 out of what I can find so far. My Great grandmother & her family Owned a beauty parlor not too far way from there (Oh and lived right by Michael Jackson!) it would be great to find any more records like that but I enjoy reading about these historical places regardless of the situation that has brought me to look into them!

Diana Dretske said...

Do you think Frank Pekala worked at the Sanitorium in Waukegan, Illinois? Or in Indiana? We do not have records for the Waukegan sanitorium, but have some newsletters made by patients. Please email me if you need further assistance.

Thank you for commenting!


Anonymous said...

My Grandmother passed away here in Feb 25, 1949. I just found this location doing family research, 11/11/2020 and it means a lot. Thank you for sharing the building pics and stories. I was able to see what she saw and be where she was her last days after all these years. Gone but not forgotten Grandmother LaVerne

Anonymous said...

Every time I visited the facility in the '80s for drug rehab I always felt some kind of sadness it wasn't until later that I found out people did pass away in the building. From tuberculosis and later early 60s it became a hospital until 74 and people passed away during that time also reading the comments there are some that are very moving. I Can Only Imagine visiting someone in those long somewhat dark hallways nevertheless we were able to conquer another disease but lost many loved ones in the process