It’s incredibly easy to zip past this dull and simple structure on the 5700 block of South Hoover Street. It doesn’t draw much attention, and its most vulnerable parts are heavily secured with wrought iron. It sits tucked away just behind the local Super Outlet store on Slauson Avenue. Yet, just decades ago, this tiresome brown building had a vibrant history of welcoming and saving lives in Southwest Los Angeles.
This was the site of the South Hoover Hospital, a former private hospital and a major maternity center in the burgeoning Southwest Los Angeles region. But how did this private hospital with a community promise become a decaying structure on South Hoover Street?
The South Hoover Hospital
The South Hoover Hospital spans back to early 1939, when Dr. Morris J. Pilson opened a medical office at 5700 South Hoover Street. The construction was simple, and described as a concrete and steel build that cost a total of $25,000. The wide-stretching private hospital building, which was open for 24 hours, had the capacity to handle 10 maternity cases and 12 general cases, while accommodating for a handful of medical offices.
Dr. Pilson opened his private practice after accumulating more than 17 years of maternity experience. And his track record of delivering babies came in handy when the South Hoover Hospital welcomed newborns weekly.
In handling so many babies, there was bound to be a mistake, right?
The Hardwig Mix-Up
In July of 1943, Harry and Lorraine Hardwig sued South Hoover Hospital for $500,000 in damages after a baby mix-up. Sort of. When the Hardwigs gave birth on June 27, 1943, the partnering physician Dr. J. M. Andrews at the South Hoover Hospital told the Hardwigs they were parents to a new baby boy. The doctor asked if they would like their child to undergo a circumcision, which the parents agreed to, and the physician also signed the official birth certificate, which stated the baby’s sex assigned at birth was “male.”
When the Hardwigs went home on July 3, they undressed their baby and discovered they had a girl in their possession. Believing they had the wrong baby, the Hardwigs sued for negligence, carelessness, and abduction. And Lorraine Hardwig said she suffered “from shock permanently, and will be forever in doubt as to the true status of her child.”
In the hospital’s defense, Dr. Andrews was quoted saying, “There must be some mistake because the baby looked like a boy when delivered.”
According to the Los Angeles Times, the South Hoover Hospital had a bed shortage, which was likely caused by the exponential growth in families within Southwest Los Angeles at the time. With so many maternity cases to process, and too few beds, the Hardwigs were sent home before the hospital could even conduct the planned circumcision. Hence, there didn’t seem to be enough capacity at the time to double-check the sex of the child.
After a half-year’s worth of litigation, the Superior Court ruled Dr. J. M. Andrews, Dr. Morris Pilson, and The South Hoover Hospital responsible for the baby mix-up. Shortly after, however, the Hardwigs settled with the South Hoover Hospital’s insurance company for a “substantial cash settlement.”
Serving South Los Angeles
Even with these setbacks, the hospital continued to be a center for maternity, continuing birth announcements for babies, twins, and even a case of triplets. In 1948, during the height of its presence, Dr. Pilson led a massive expansion of the hospital, adding a two-story addition to the original building at 5710 South Hoover Street.
Though one of the most interesting finds in my research was this article on a couple with the last name “Hoover” who gave birth to two Hoover twins at The South Hoover Hospital.
By 1956, Victor Pilson, the son of Morris Pilson, took over the practice at the hospital.
Things began to shift in the 70s, a few years after the Watts Rebellion. Birth announcements in publications became less common. The hospital, however, was still hiring nurses, but its feature story presence in newspapers fell like a rock.
In 1978, The Area 24 Professional Standards Review Organization, Inc., announced it would be reviewing local community hospitals across Los Angeles, including the South Hoover Hospital. In an earlier video retelling the story of the Broadway Hospital, the Professional Standards Review Organization exposed the neighboring Broadway Hospital for its abnormally high death rate among its Medicare patients. In the case of the South Hoover Hospital, I did not find any public remarks made by the review organization.
According to a Legacy.com obituary for Victor Pilson, the South Hoover Hospital closed toward the end of the 20th century, and the property was later donated to an unidentified church. The last record of The South Hoover hospital conducting business in South LA was its hospital expense data from 1977, which showed a steady stream of admissions. By 1980, the hospital building appeared to operate as a board and care facility, based on newspaper advertisement listings.
In 2001, the property was listed for sale for $550,000. The building was briefly owned by a real estate broker between 2007 and 2009, where it briefly found new life as a hardware store, but it was later sold to the out-of-state limited liability company, 5700 Hoover, that was formed in Nevada in 2009. In 2011, the 5700 Hoover elected to modify the certificate of occupancy, and the former hospital building was permitted to be used as office space.
In 2014, The Los Angeles Times published an investigative report on 5700 South Hoover, which was renting shared rooms illegally to roughly 42 low-income individuals. 5700 South Hoover had never been permitted for residential use. The Los Angeles Fire Department called for the rentals to cease immediately because it was unsafe and unsuited for occupancy.
Nearly a year later, the owner of the building elected to change the occupancy use for 5700 into a philanthropic building, boarding up several of the openings. Over the past three years, it has operated as temporary housing for disabled and transitioning people, and veterans. Within the photos on its website, you can almost imagine the interior of the South Hoover Hospital.
While the owners of the building are destined to make it into living quarters, the former hospital was listed for sale for $3 million as of August of 2023. In its description, the sellers made a subtle plea to the city to purchase this property to create low-income and transitional housing.
Despite being built with good intentions, the future of the South Hoover Hospital has been unsteady for more than four decades. Even though, it’s easy to miss this building’s incredible history and contribution to South Los Angeles.