St. Elizabeth Hospital
St. Elizabeth Hospital first opened in Houston’s Fifth Ward neighborhood in 1947 to serve the city’s African American residents, who, during segregation, were dangerously under served in sparse, overcrowded and underfunded facilities. Local residents still tell personal stories of getting services at St. Elizabeth but now it sits abandoned and in dis-repair.
However, the Fifth Ward Community Redevelopment Corporation (Fifth Ward CRC) recently acquired the building and envisions an adaptive renovation into mixed commercial, public and residential uses. Much of the original building’s construction will be preserved, while the non-historic buildings added during the expansion period undergo consideration and possible removal so that historic character of the building will be preserved for the 150-year-old neighborhood. St. Elizabeth’s advantageous location is on Fifth Ward’s commercial and cultural corridor of Lyons Avenue, just blocks from Interstate 10 with views of the Houston skyline. Fifth Ward CRC will engage the community in the process of preservation and renovation.
By the mid 1940's, more than 100,000 Black Americans called Houston home. However, under the weight of the Jim Crow, only 175 hospital beds were available to people of color in Houston, which amounted to about one bed for every 600 persons of color. Recognizing how desperately under served Houston’s Black Americans were, Father John Roach, the Director of Catholic Charities of the Galveston Diocese and Director of the hospitals for the Diocese (which included the Houston) planned to build a $10,000 clinic in Houston’s Fifth Ward. The Missionary Sisters of the Incarnate Word Healthcare Society launched a fundraising campaign, which kicked off with an initial contribution of $1,000 from C.E. Bryne, Bishop of Galveston, and a $26,000 contribution from Houston oilman and philanthropist, George W. Strake, Sr. that would go to the hospital’s operating room.
Additionally, the Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, who would operate the hospital, put them-selves $200,000 in debt to see the construction through, and to make sure that this project would not be just another dream. Altogether, the fundraising campaign raised over $400,000, allowing for the construction of a 60-bed, three-story facility named St. Elizabeth Hospital for Negroes.
St. Elizabeth Hospital was dedicated on May 18, 1947, after the original dedication ceremony set for April 20, 1947 was postponed due to the April 16 Texas City blast, one of the deadliest indus-trial accidents in United States history. Many of the Sisters scheduled to operate the facility were assigned to help the victims of the blast. Father Roach’s brother had been killed in one of the explosions.
St. Elizabeth Hospital acted as a catalyst for change in its self-integration of black and white nurses, nuns, physicians. However, a decade after it opened, the hospital suffered from overcrowding, running at 110% of official capacity. Patients were crammed into doctor’s lounges, delivery rooms, and corridors. Even the 16 sisters who operated the hospital lived in cramped conditions. Federal, State, and private funds eventually allowed for an expansion.
A few years after desegregation, and with availability of facilities elsewhere, patients no longer used St. Elizabeth as their primary care service. St. Elizabeth became more of a fading memory and less of the valuable asset as it had once been. However, Saint Elizabeth would have several reuses become a recovery campus, substance abuse treatment facility, detoxification center, and half-way house operated under the University Of Texas Health Science Center Of Houston. The Riverside General Hospital System later purchased the building and renamed it the Barbara Jordan Healthcare Facility. In late 2014, the old St. Elizabeth Hospital formally would shut its doors, owing to major maintenance and facility repairs, as well as fiscal and legal troubles with Riverside General.
For nearly seven decades the Saint Elizabeth Hospital provided healthcare for Houston’s under-served. Today, Fifth Ward CRC is designing an adaptive reuse program that seeks to preserve one more of Fifth Ward’s abandoned landmarks.
4514 Lyons formerly St. Elizabeth Hospital
Adaptive Reuse Project
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