August 14, 2020

“Among the finest hospitals in the country”: The University Hospital of 1925

Part of a series of articles celebrating the 150th anniversary of U-M's academic medical center

Old Main hospital

The University Hospital as it looked when it opened in 1925, at the corner of Ann and Observatory Streets in Ann Arbor

A century ago, coming to the University of Michigan for medical care meant finding your way to one of eight medical buildings off Catherine Street, depending on your age and medical condition.

In August 1925, that care got a new front door.

Ninety-five years ago this week, the first patients arrived at the new University Hospital -- a massive, and thoroughly modern, medical marvel at the corner of Ann and Observatory Streets.

As they passed through the entrance’s carved limestone arch, they entered a bustling health care facility that gave patients of any age access to inpatient and outpatient care for nearly any condition.

Its architects drew on their experience creating innovative, efficient factories for Detroit’s car companies. They designed it from the ground up for 20th Century medicine, from advanced diagnostics to long-term rehabilitation, and from initial examinations to complex surgery.

The nine-story edifice served as the hub of U-M clinical care and education for more than 60 years, as a collection of new buildings sprouted around it. By the time the Replacement Hospital -- what we now call University Hospital -- opened in 1986, the 1925 hospital had gained the name “Old Main.”

When it closed, Old Main was just as outdated and over-filled as the hospitals built in the 1890s had been in the Roaring Twenties. But for much of the 20th Century, it offered the promise of modern care for all, a testing ground for new ideas and a training space for legions of health professionals.