By Linda E. Miller
A graduate of San Diego State University
and former staff member of the San Diego History Center
The symptoms at first are not alarming—a mild cough, tightness in the chest, a quickened pulse, a slight fever. It might be a simple virus; nothing more serious than a cold. Rather than abate, however, the symptoms grow worse. The cough becomes more noticeable, bringing with it blood-streaked phlegm. Chills and perspiration plague the patient. Loss of weight and marked difficulty in breathing as well as diarrhea further the case against him. The diagnosis: consumption (known today as tuberculosis).1 The prescription: San Diego.
The case above typifies many that occurred across the country during San Diego’s formative and boom years. In 1850 the city had 650 inhabitants; by 1910 there were 39,578.2 There are no existing statistics that specify how many of these people were here for health reasons, but judging by the promotional pamphlets for San Diego, the number of treatment centers in the area, and the ratio of doctors to residents (seventy-six doctors to 11,307 residents in 1887) it is safe to say thousands.3
Some came alone, others came with families. Some came with tuberculosis, others came with asthma, and still others came to obtain relief from rheumatism. Many of the men and women who came to San Diego ill, recovered their health and went on to become leading citizens in the community. Among that group were men such as Ephraim Morse, Frank Kimball, and Daniel Cleveland. Others lived for only a few years after their arrival, but nevertheless had an impact on San Diego’s growth through their work and through their survivors. The San Diego Union of July 21, 1870 lists eighteen prominent, successful men who came to San Diego for health reasons.4 So it is not unreasonable to say that health seekers had a big impact on San Diego, increasing San Diego’s population and furthering the area’s economic development as well. The people who sought health in San Diego were an interesting and varied lot. As individuals each left his own unique mark. Collectively, as doctors, lawyers, merchants, publishers, investors and ministers, health seekers helped to lay the foundations for future growth and encouraged succeeding generations to follow their lead.
San Diego has always advertised its climate and quality of life. This promotion grew out of the belief that climate can cause health problems as well as cure them—a very popular idea endorsed by many physicians in the past. Knowledgeable doctors and patients alike claimed climate was a cure for consumption. Early travelers to California, whether they came for health or business, wrote home marvelling over the benefits of the wonderful climate. Often the letters were published in the home town newspapers and thus the news spread even farther.
In 1884 E.H. Adams traveled to California and wrote letters to “certain Eastern journals—chiefly the Cleveland Leader and Herald. . .” These letters were later published and bound in a book entitled To-and-Fro In Southern California. Along with tips on where to go, and what to wear, this little book relates words of wisdom on health from a leading physician. The doctor advises that those with consumption who are not too far gone should come to Southern California. He goes on to discuss the different effects that various locations have on different patients, saying,
It has been learned that the climate of no single situation affects all consumptives alike. One will improve on the border of the sea, its stiff breeze and chilling fog helping. From these the next patient must run for his life. Another will take in mouthfulls of health with every breath on a hill-top. The reasons for this are very apparent. In the various patients the disease is at all stages of progress. Then each sufferer’s ailment is due to a different cause. All these are matters which should be intelligently studied.5
These second-hand reports were further strengthened by the testimony of experienced health refugees. The Reverend Charles Russell Clarke is a good example. Clarke was born in Albion, New York, and graduated from Princeton College and Theological Seminary. He came to San Diego in May of 1869 and was pastor of the Presbyterian Church. Before his death due to tuberculosis in 1872, Reverend Clarke wrote many articles on the effects of climate on pulmonary disease, drawing from his own experience as well as that of other invalids. These writings helped to publicize San Diego’s worth as a health resort.6
Doctors and other businessmen soon found that bringing sick people to San Diego could be profitable. San Diego’s most colorful and vociferous champion of climate was Dr. Peter C. Remondino. Remondino was a graduate of Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia and came to San Diego because of its climate. He had served as a doctor during the Civil War and had fallen victim to some sort of malarial fever while in Virginia. This fever recurred after he served in the French army in 1870, and so he arrived here in 1872 seeking relief.7
Remondino was widely respected for his skill and knowledge. The city appointed him its physician in 1875, and he was the first president of the city Board of Health. Remondino no doubt truly believed that climate was the greatest factor in health. At least that was what he said in books, articles and lectures, over and over again. In Health Seekers of Southern California, John Baur says men like Remondino “sometimes sounded like quacks selling nostrums, the whole area being the panacea.”8 This certainly is evident in the following extract from an article by Remondino published in the San Diego Advertiser:
The United States has a small section away off in its southwestern corner, which will give to a man a life of ease, comfort, luxury, and besides allow him at the same time to accumulate wealth to any amount. If you have any doubt about this just look at the early Americans who came here in the period following the annexation of California. They are endowed with Falstaffian paunches, Bonifacial noses and Teutonic complexions of roses; never sick; with digestions to be envied by the ostrich or alligator; lungs like a blacksmith’s bellows and hearts as tough as that of a turtle. Their muscles are firm and their frames sturdy and their bank accounts are . . . unlimited . . . their main occupation being the clípping off of coupons from their stores of bonds. There is evident proof of the physical and financial effects of our climate which cannot be gainsaid—as the Horton House porch is always more or less ornamented by a number of these living witnesses of the wonderful effects of our incomparable climate.9
As sincere as Remondino may have been in his belief about climate, he was a born promoter and he made the most of his influence. He urged people to come here at every opportunity. Of course sick people need doctors as well as a place to stay, so Remondino joined forces with another doctor, Dr. Thomas C. Stockton, and in 1879 began making plans to build San Diego’s first private hospital.
The building Remondino and Stockton erected was a very simple structure on the block fronting Columbia and F streets. Business was good the first couple of years, if the newspaper accounts are to be believed. On December 21, 1881 the San Diego Union reported there were seventeen patients registered there, “all of whom spoke approvingly of the management.”10 By 1883 the good doctors were building an addition and the San Diego Union reported business was increasing daily.11 The hospital business, or perhaps his partnership with Stockton, did not suit Remondino, however, and in December of 1884 he sold his share to Stockton.12 Less than a year later the San Diego Union announced that Dr. Stockton’s sanitarium was going to be converted to a hotel.13 The building was operated as the Arlington Hotel for a time, though apparently the U.S. Army later put the building to use as a hospital again.14
Two years after he sold his interest in the hospital, Remondino retired from the practice of medicine and entered into the hotel business with great enthusiasm. Purchasing the old Santa Rosa Hotel, he renamed it the St. James and began an extensive remodeling project. Among the improvements were sixteen new waterclosets “of the most approved pattern.”15 Located on Sixth Street, the hotel boasted 250 rooms supplied with gas, electric bells, fire alarms, fire escapes, reading rooms, free sample rooms for commercial men, shaving parlors, and a telegraph office.16 For some reason Remondino sold out in 1890, perhaps to devote his time to writing and publicizing San Diego’s climate.17
Remondino was not the first to make the most of an opportunity to capitalize on San Diego’s climate. The Horton House, New Town’s first hotel, opened in October of 1870, and boasted twenty suites set aside for invalids on the first floor.18 Alonzo Horton’s brother-in-law, William Wallace Bowers, who was responsible for designing and outfitting the Horton House, went on to great success as collector of the port, state senator, congressman, and promoter of San Diego.19
Bowers was a colorful character with a fine wit and with more than political ambitions. In 1883 he made plans to construct a hotel of his own. Apparently some people misconstrued Bowers’ intentions because in September of that year he found it necessary to clarify his plans in the San Diego Union, stating,
I am not a doctor, neither am I building a sanitarium, asylum, hospital nor home for the friendless, I am engaged in erecting what is intended to be a first-class family hotel, nothing more-nor-less; the guests will, I suppose, do as at other hotels, choose their own physician if they desire one, without the advice or interference of any employe of the house; I state this because I have in one day received as many as four application (sic) for the position of physician-not from the doctors here, but from friends and relatives of doctors who want to come here.20
Bowers’ protestations aside, the fact is he was hoping to cash in on the invalid trade. One year later he published an eight page pamphlet entitled “San Diego as a Summer Resort for Pleasure Seekers and Invalids.” This little pamphlet extolls the climatic advantages of San Diego and makes extensive use of weather charts. It then devotes two pages to description of the Florence Hotel, W.W. Bowers, proprietor:
Chief among the places where the visitor may find comfortable and even luxurious accommodations is the new FLORENCE HOTEL, which was opened to the public January 24, 1884. This house was especially designed to be and is a first-class family hotel. It is the unanimous verdict of the guests that it is the best hotel they have found.21
Bowers very gallantly admits that there are other places for people to stay, saying “Besides the FLORENCE, there are other hotels and boarding-houses of lesser pretensions where people of limited means can find very comfortable accommodations.22
Bowers did work hard to make his hotel first-class, traveling to San Francisco himself to pick out the furnishings, and seeing to it that the hotel was connected with the telephone system. He was from all accounts successful, finding it necessary to add thirty-five rooms in 1885.23 In 1891 he gave it up, however, no doubt because he had been elected to Congress.24
So the promotion of climate was big and important business in San Diego. Occasionally, the promoters showed some evidence of conscience in the matter. The San Diego Union in an editorial on March 10, 1870 admitted that “. . . this climate, good as it is, will not raise the dead.”25 This, however, was the exception rather than the rule. Publications such as the San Diego Advertiser and pamphlets put out by hotels and investment companies generally told only one side of the story—the side that said “Come to San Diego.”
Once the sick came and found that just breathing San Diego’s air had not cured them, they of course pursued other “cures.” One of the doctors whom they sought out was Dr. Thomas C. Stockton, Remondino’s hospital partner. Dr. Stockton was not as interested in climate as Remondino, but he was a businessman, and perhaps better at business than medicine. Among his interests were real estate, mining, and the Citizens’ Railroad Committee. Stockton was twice involved in serious controversy. The first time he was accused of padding bills presented for services rendered at the county hospital. The second time he was responsible for prescribing an apparently fatal dose of aconite for an eleven-year-old boy.26
Stockton was not averse to trying new treatments, even if they seemed a bit outrageous. Influenced by a certain Dr. Bergeon of Paris, Stockton began experimenting with a new treatment for lung disease. After three weeks of experimentation he announced that the results, although limited, were most favorable. The rectal administration of gases never caught on, however.27
Another “cure” that came briefly into vogue was the innoculation of consumptives with “Koch’s lymph.” Dr. Bowditch Morton treated several patients in this fashion at the Hotel del Coronado.28 The procedure was invented by a German doctor, Robert Koch, who had successfully isolated and cultivated tuberculosis bacillus, proving it was communicable.29 Koch’s procedure worried some people at first. The San Diego Union feared that this new treatment might divert invalids with consumption from coming to Southern California, and so a reporter went to the honorable Dr. Remondino. The doctor reassured San Diego that although a great number of patients would flock to Europe for treatment, the deaths of these patients on the ocean voyage and in foreign countries would soon discourage others from following suit. Remondino insisted that San Diego would always be “the asylum for the wrecks of the poor cyclone-swept and freshet-deluged regions to the east of the Rockies.”30
Of course not all doctors accepted the idea that climate was a major factor in disease, most particularly doctors in other parts of the country. Dr. Dio Lewis, “Physician-in-Chief of the Boston Movement Cure for Consumptive Invalids,” believed that the importance of climate was much exaggerated. He blamed New England’s factories for the higher death rate from consumption. In his book Weak Lungs and How To Make Them Strong, Lewis prescribes improved diet, regular exercise, bathing, comfortable clothing, and the abstention from tobacco, along with plenty of clean fresh air. Many of Lewis’ ideas make sense and would be applauded today. What his rate of success was we have no way of knowing, but certainly his suggestions must have brought relief to many. For example he deplored the use of the corset, calling it a cruel invention:
It ought at once and forever to be abandoned. Even if it be worn loose . . . its stiffness entirely prevents that undulating motion about the middle of the body, which should accompany respiration.31
Unfortunately, not all of the “cures” available in San Diego were as sensible. One of the more questionable was conducted by “Professor” C.L. Bernard at his Spiritual and Magnetic Healing Sanitarium located at the corner of Seventh and B. Bernard’s advertisement in the 1904 and 1905 city directories boasted “Examination and Diagnosis Free.” There is no indication as to what the actual treatments were like, but the ad indicated a “Circle Reading” every Sunday afternoon at 2:30 and “Private Readings” every day.32
Even the more conservative sanitariums in town offered treatments that would be looked upon somewhat skeptically today. The Agnew Sanitarium is one such example. Located at the corner of Fifth and Beech, this elaborate four-story structure contained one hundred beds. Among others, some of the advantages the Agnew had were “the latest and best facilities for all forms of Baths and Electrical Treatments, Massage and Swedish Movements.”33 The Agnew did not rely solely on the invalid trade. It also had surgery and maternity departments, which may have been one reason for its longevity. The first reference to the Agnew appeared in the 1903 city directory, and it did not go out of business, apparently, until sometime after 1920.
Another long-lived treatment center was Marx Lesem’s Kneipp Sanitarium. Born on March 4, 1844 in Rheinpfalz, Bavaria, Germany, Lesem came to the United States in 1859 with his parents. Eventually settling in Illinois, he went into the merchandise business with his brothers. In 1879 Lesem had to sell his interest in the company because he was stricken with an incurable disease (there is no identification of the disease). Unable to find relief in this country, he ended up at Sebastian Kneipp’s Sanitarium in Bavaria. There Lesem was miraculously cured, and in 1881 he returned to the United States. In 1887 his wife became ill, and the Lesems moved to San Diego seeking a milder climate. Here he established a merchandise business, which he operated until 1896 when he opened his own Kneipp Sanitarium, where “all treatments are administered in exact accordance with the precepts of Kneipp himself.”34
Lesem, it should be pointed out, was not a medical doctor. He was a hydropath; his treatments involved nothing more than herbs and water in a multitude of forms. Among them were: cold and warm packs, with and without herbs; vapor baths; steam baths; pure cold-water baths; hip baths; warm herb baths; ablutions; walking barefooted; and douches of various kinds.35 Lesem claimed that “any and all diseases, whether acute or of long standing, will yield to our system. . . .”36 The San Díego Union gave its approval, saying that “The treatment is very invigorating. Any ailment in which the nervous forces are shattered are especially benefitted.”37
The Kneipp Sanitarium and its founder were well respected in town, and the venture was a successful one. In 1908 Lesem added another wing to the center due to growing demand for his treatments. Kneipp Sanitarium was listed in the city directory up through 1917, when Lesem was seventy-three years old, and he apparently continued to practice his art even after he gave up the sanitarium.’38
Another organization which featured a variety of elaborate treatments was “The Sanitarium Treatment Rooms” on Fourth Street, which operated under the auspices of the Paradise Valley Sanitarium. Along with massage, baths and exercise, the Treatment Rooms used electricity in their treatments.39 Electricity was still a mysterious force to most people, and it was believed it might have curative powers.
The “open air treatment” was the specialty of the Parks Sanitarium in La Mesa, which focused exclusively on diseases of the lungs and throat. Operated by J. A. Parks, M. D., this retreat was surrounded by citrus groves and featured tent cottages heated by wood fires.40 The Parks Sanitarium had a maximum capacity of twenty guests, and rates were twenty-five dollars per week and up.41
Closer to town, and a little less rural, was Dr. William A. Edwards’ Sanitarium, located at Fourth and Fir, where the invalid received:
a general supervision in regard to diet, personal hygiene, hours of exercise, number of days out of doors, in fact . . . such a life as would be most conducive in each particular case to produce speedy return to the normal standard of health.42
Even the Hotel del Coronado, which billed itself as the “Largest Resort Hotel in the World,” and counted among its advantages a drug store, curio store, barber shop, telegraph office, telephone office, printing office, library, photograph and art gallery, believed it was necessary to publicize the health-giving qualities of its mineral water. “The longer the springs flow,” claimed the promoters, “the waters keep improving and show new virtues and greater powers.”43
The testimonies published in pamphlets about the hotel seem to indicate that the water was most effective in cases of kidney troubles. One physician was so impressed by the water at Coronado that he wrote the following in a letter to the Board of Health:
. . . I have given special attention to the water of that beautiful locality, and find that it will bear favorable comparison with any other of the celebrated waters. . . . The discovery of the Coronado Mineral Water is of so much importance, and has such a bearing upon our standing as a sanitarium, and the facts in regard to it, now in my possession, are so well authenticated, that I cannot but draw the attention of your honorable body to the matter, in the hope that you will give it a wider publicity.44
In its pamphlets the hotel also published detailed information about the climate of Coronado and “WHAT EMINENT PHYSICIANS SAY ABOUT CORONADO.” It no doubt helped to have these pamphlets published in Chicago, where they would be seen by prospective travelers.
So if nothing else, the early health seekers in San Diego had a good selection of “cures” from which to choose. If you could not afford to pay for treatment at a sanitarium, you could at least find inexpensive accommodations, sit out in the fresh temperate air, and drink bottles of Coronado Mineral Water. Regardless of their effectiveness, the fact that so many reputable people claimed cures were possible through treatment available here must have given hope to many.
Although San Diego is no longer a Mecca for victims of tuberculosis, it still receives thousands of newcomers every year seeking respite from harsher eastern weather. Tourism is and was big business here, and phenomenal growth a fact of life since 1850. The pioneer health seekers and early promoters of San Diego’s climate certainly set the tone and the pace for what was to come.
1. Dio Lewis, M.D., Weak Lungs, and How to Make Them Strong (Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1864), pp. 19-21.
2. Richard Bigger et al., Metropolitan Coast (Los Angeles: Bureau of Governmental Research, 1958).
3. Population File, San Diego History Center Research Library, Serra Museum, San Diego, California; and San Diego City and County Directory, 1887-88.
4. San Diego Union, July 21, 1870, p. 2.
5. E.H. Adams, To-and-Fro In Southern California (Cincinnati: W.M.B.C. Press, 1887), pp. 79-80.
6. San Diego Union, April 19, 1872, p. 2.
7. “Mrs. Peter Charles Remondino is the widow of Dr. Remondino . . .,” newspaper clipping in Remondino biographical file, San Diego History Center Research Archives.
8. John E. Baur, Health Seekers of Southern California (San Marino, California: Huntington Library Publications, 1959), p.5.
9. San Diego Advertiser, July 25, 1891, p. 1.
10. San Diego Union, December 25, 1881, p. 3.
11. San Diego Union, January 17, 1883, p. 3.
12. San Diego Union, December 20, 1884, p. 3.
13. San Diego Union, July 24, 1885, p. 3.
14. San Diego City and County Directory, 1901, p. 350.
15. San Diego Union, November 21, 1886, p. 3.
16. San Diego Union, January 5, 1890, p. 7.
17. San Diego Union, July 29, 1890, p. 3.
18. San Diego Union, October 6, 1870, p. 3.
19. San Diego Union, May 3, 1917, p. 1.
20. San Diego Union, September 14, 1883, p. 2.
21. W.W. Bowers, San Diego, California as a Summer and Winter Resort for Pleasure Seekers and Invalids, pamphlet on file at the San Diego Historical Society Research Archives, p. 3.
22. Ibid., pp. 4-5.
23. San Diego Union, April 18, 1885, p. 3.
24. San Diego Union, January 8, 1891, p. 5.
25. San Diego Union, March, 10, 1870, p. 2.
26. San Diego Union, 1872-1885.
27. San Diego Union, May 18, 1887, p. 5.
28. San Diego Union, February 1, 1891, p. 5.
29. Baur, Health Seekers, p. 155.
30. San Diego Union, November 19, 1890, p. 5.
31. Lewis, Weak Lungs, p. 146.
32. San Diego City and County Directory, 1905, p. 7.
33. San Diego City and County Directory, 1903, p. 508; and San Diego City and County Directory, 1916, p. 2.
34. J. M. Guinn, A History of California and an Extended History of Its Southern Coast Counties (Los Angeles: Historic Record Co., 1907), pp. 1295-96; and San Diego City and County Directory, 1908, p. 3.
35. San Diego Union, January 1, 1903, p. 5.
36. San Diego City and County Directory, 1908, p. 3.
37. San Diego Union, January 1, 1903, p. 5.
38. San Diego City and County Directory, 1908, p. 3.
39. San Diego City and County Directory, 1905, p. 11.
40. San Diego City and County Directory, 1906, p. 7.
41. Philip P. Jacobs, The Campaign Against Tuberculosis In the United States (New York: Charities Publication Committee, 1908), p. 7.
42. “Southern California as a Health Resort-Its Climatic Advantages,” The Golden Era (December 1889): 630.
43. Coronado (Chicago: R.R. Donnelly & Sons, 1889), p. 28.
THE PHOTOGRAPH on page 241 is courtesy of Jane Booth. All others are from the San Diego History Center’s Title Insurance and Trust Collection.