Italian Hospital

The Italian Hospital in San Francisco was a 19th Century charitable institution sponsored by the Italian Mutual Benevolent Association, serving indigent Italian immigrants. It was a 40 bed hospital housed in a two story brick building built in 1869 on a steep block bounded by 28th Street/Noe/29th Street/Castro. The hospital closed by the late 1880s and the building was demolished sometime between 1900 and 1905. No traces of it remain today.

I've lived a few hundred feet from the former site of the Italian Hospital for decades. I found references to it while researching local history for my Upper Noe and Mitchell family pages, searched for it online in old insurance maps and city directories, and eventually collected the references cited on this page.

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The web contains very little information about the Italian Hospital. The SFgenealogy website says the Italian Mutual Benefit Society was incorporated 12/30/1867, but it clearly existed for some years before incorporation (see Langley's as described below, starting in 1859). The website L'Italo-Americano mentions the Italian Hospital in an article about the Italian Cemetery (spelling and grammar corrected here):

...
The Italian Mutual Benevolent Association... functioned as a nineteenth-century social service organization.

From 1858 to 1862 it provided physicians for routine care. Then, in 1862, the Society opened a small temporary Italian Hospital at the corner of Folsom and Third Streets... Within a short time, the hospital closed and St. Mary's provided care for the serious illness. On June 13, 1869, la Società Italiana di Mutua Beneficenza opened a second hospital. Located in the Mission District at Dale and Vale Streets, the structure cost $46,000. The hospital provided medical care until 1873.

When the services ended at the Italian Hospital, the Society sent the critically ill to St. Mary's.
...

My Our House page gives a quick overview of the development of Horner's Addition, now called Noe Valley. Here Vale and Dale are archaic names for 28th and 29th Streets, as used on maps of Horner's Addition in the 19th Century (before the streets actually existed). Today a San Franciscan would place the second Italian Hospital in Noe Valley, not in the Mission District. City directory entries below suggest that the hospital that closed in 1873 was the first hospital at Folsom/Third, not the second hospital at 28th/Noe.



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San Francisco city directories from 1859 through 1887 list the Benevolent Association and the hospitals. Henry G. Langley's San Francisco Directory (simply Langley's below) mentions the Benevolent Society in the Benevolent Associations and Hospitals sections of its 1859 [p. 389], 1861 [p. 479, p. 495], 1863 [p. 23], and 1865 [p. 36] editions. Langley's 1867 says the Italian Benevolent Association was founded 10/17/1858 and provides care at St. Mary's Hospital [p. 669]. The directory mentions the Italian Hospital (no address given) as sustained by the Benevolent Association [p. 698], but it contains no Italian Hospital directory entry.



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The San Francisco Chronicle of 6/15/1869 reports the dedication of the new Italian Hospital building on 6/13/1869. In Langley's 1869, under Hospitals in the descriptive Progress of the City section:

... the Italians have just completed a commodious hospital four miles from the business part of the city. [p. 44]

A directory entry lists the hospital as the Italian and Swiss Hospital at Folsom/Third, but some addresses in the directory reference the New Italian Hospital near 29th:

ITALIAN AND SWISS HOSPITAL, SE cor Folsom and Third [p. 330]
Murray Michael, farmer, 29th nr New Italian Hospital [p. 463]

Langley's still lists the Italian and Swiss Hospital at Folsom/Third in 1871 [p. 748] and in 1873 [p. 715]. Under Hospitals in 1874, Langley's lists the new location instead of the old:

[Hospitals] Italian and Swiss, Twenty-eighth nr Noe [p. 776]

Langley's 1875 drops "and Swiss" from the name:

[Hospitals] ... The Italians have within a few years completed a commodious building, corner of Twenty-eighth and Noe streets ... [p. 47]
[Hospitals] Italian, Twenty-eighth nr Noe [p. 818]



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Langley's 1880 gives details about the hospital in its Progress of the City section, but it gets the location wrong (25th/26th should read 28th/29th). [p. 41] Langley's continues to list the Italian Hospital through 1887 [p. 1338] but drops it starting in 1888.



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This 1886 Sanborn Insurance Maps of San Francisco, California (simply Sanborn below) map [Vol. 5, map 128L; north at left] shows the Italian Hospital as the sole occupant of a large block bounded by 28th Street/Noe/29th Street/Castro. It's a two-story brick building with numerous windows and several skylights, with a note "No Inmates March '86" (i.e., as of the date of the map). Just west of the hospital (below it in the image) is a two-story wooden stable/outbuilding. A windmill pumps water from a well on 29th Street up the steep hill to a 15,000 gallon tank on 28th Street above the hospital. The map shows many dwellings east of Noe, but only the hospital and the Mitchell dairy west of Noe. Photos from 1923 on my Upper Noe page show a steamshovel opening Valley Street right at the former location of the hospital. Valley now divides the big "Hospital Grounds" block shown here into two city blocks.



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Overlaying the 1886 Sanborn image with 2019 Google maps data shows the precise location of the hospital and its water supply. The well and windmill are at present-day 556 29th, the reservoir at 560 29th (my house!), the shed at 448 Valley, the water tank at 451 28th, and the Hospital at 426/432/436 Valley. The right-hand picture shows the hospital's location now (Valley at bottom). The view from the hospital's many windows must have been fabulous.



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The 9/24/1890 issue of the San Francisco Call describes a lawsuit related to constuction at the Italian Hospital.



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This 1890s view of Upper Noe Valley and the Mission is the only photo I have found of the Italian Hospital; it's the large building perched on the bare hill in the left foreground (detail at center). The shed/outbuilding is in the photo too, though its dark wood exterior makes it hard to see; I'm guessing the white shape just right of the shed is a dog (or sheep?) drinking from a watering trough. The photo looks northeast from Gold Mine Hill (now in Diamond Heights), with Day Street at right, 29th Street just to its left, and Noe horizontal at bottom. Construction of the new (current) St. Paul's at Valley/Church began in 1897. The photo shows the old St. Paul's Church at 29th/Church but no construction at the new church site, so the photo must be no later than 1897.



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At first glance, the 1900 Sanborn image [Vol. 6, page 660] just looks like a rotated version of the 1886 image (north at left in 1886, north at right in 1900). But the building is now labeled "Tenements formerly Italian Hospital", and the windmill/reservoir/water tank are gone.



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In the 1901 San Francisco Block Book [p. 711], Hibernia S.&L. Society owns all of both blocks (Horner's Addition 169 and 170) except for two lots at the southeast corner of 29th/Noe. This book shows parcel ownership, not buildings, so this page would not show the Italian Hospital building if it still existed.



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Sanborn for 1905 shows no trace of the Italian Hospital or of its stable/outbuilding [Vol. 6, page 660; north at right], suggesting that the building was razed before the 1906 earthquake had a chance to knock it down. Here the big hospital block is divided in two by Valley Street, though Valley is noted as "Not Opened" below Castro. Both blocks are subdivided, with a few buildings at Noe/Valley but nothing built yet on the former hospital site.



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What a difference a decade makes! Sanborn for 1914 [Vol. 7, p. 743 + p.751; north at top] shows both blocks almost fully built out, although most of the Italian Hospital site remains unbuilt (open parcels on Valley, triple and quadruple open parcels on 28th). This map shows street addresses as they are today, and most of these houses still stand. A present-day assessor's map of block 6612 (Valley/28th) shows irregular parcel numbering because the Italian Hospital occupied multiple large parcels when the block was subdivided.