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The Pottenger Sanatorium

This Monrovia institution became world famous in the fight against tuberculosis before it closed just over 50 years ago.

By the 1880s, scientists had determined that tuberculosis was a contagious disease, and this led to the need to place those suffering from the illness in institutions where they could receive proper care. 

Monrovia, with its year-round mild temperatures and dry climate, provided an ideal location to help nineteenth century sufferers of this ailment seek a cure. The story of how Monrovia became world famous as a center for the treatment of tuberculosis is largely the story of one man.

Dr. Frances Marion Pottenger was born and educated in Ohio, receiving his M.D. degree and graduating with the highest honors in his class. It was after Dr. Pottenger’s wife died of tuberculosis in 1898, three years after she developed the disease, that he decided to take up the study of TB as his life’s work. 

He returned to Monrovia where he had lived when his wife had first become sick, and on December 5, 1903, he opened the Pottenger Sanitorium for Diseases of the Lungs and Throat, located in the 500-600 blocks of Charlotte Avenue (now Canyon Boulevard) and occupying 40 acres. Originally, the institution housed 11 patients but was expanded to care for 134 patients. 

Dr. Pottenger lived on the grounds of the sanatorium, and in the first ten years of the sanatorium’s existence he treated over 1,500 patients. Perhaps the institution’s most famous patient was silent screen actress Mabel Normand, who died of tuberculosis at the sanatorium in 1930 at the age of 37.

Dr. Pottenger eventually became one of the leading lung specialists in Southern California, and one of the world’s leaders and pioneers in the fight against tuberculosis.  Because of his commitment to his work, the Pottenger Sanatorium was one of the most famous institutions devoted to the treatment of diseases of the lungs. He believed that isolating the patient from the world outside and giving the patient fresh air with easy access to a physician provided the best chance for combating the disease.

The sanatorium was closed in 1955 when Dr. Pottenger, who was 88 years old at the time, retired. He died in 1967. For about the next 20 years, the land was leased to the Carmelite Order as a convent and retreat. Sometime in the 1970s the land was sold and became the housing development known as Canyon Crest. Today nothing remains of the sanatorium’s buildings. However, the existence of numerous postcards circulated at the time provides images of how the facility appeared.

Approximately one-third of the world’s population today is thought to be infected with mycobacterium tuberculosis, with only 5-10% of the U.S. population testing positive for TB. While most infections in humans are latent, if the disease progresses to an active state, it can kill more that 50% of its victims if not treated. But, in part, because of Dr. Pottenger’s efforts in this area, tuberculosis is not the killer it once was.

Gayle M. Montgomery June 19, 2011 at 04:53 PM
I really love these glimpses into Monrovia's history. Please keep em coming so that this history is not lost.
Betty Sandford July 24, 2011 at 09:58 PM
When I was going through Monrovia schools, Pottenger kids were among our school mates. In 1953, Jules & I built a house on Granite St., adjoining the Pottenger Sanatorium. I don't believe the property was owned by the Pottengers at that time; as I remember, it was a hospital for indigent Native Americans, who sometimes showed up at our doorstep My children called the wild tree-filled property the jungle & considered it an exciting playground Before the sub-dividers could tear out all of the plants, we selected some to keep.My current garden, retains some of these & I retain the memory.
serena wollen September 04, 2011 at 05:40 PM
i have a orginal book or borchure is what i call it of this place has pictures of it and prices
Neralena September 04, 2012 at 07:40 AM
WOW! I Love to know the prices in those days! and also look at the pictures. Are they pictures of the houses? the buildings or people? Please let me know, this is so interesting to me. Thank You, Lena
Judy Barnes (Packer) May 02, 2013 at 02:13 AM
I was one of the many children who called those 40 acres my playground. My friends and I squeezed through open windows of the abandoned sanitarium many times; very exciting and scary at the same time. A lot of wild, untamed memories from the 60s and 70s. Not enough wild, open space left. I am so thankful for my childhood on N. Canyon Blvd., in Monrovia!

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