Located along the shore of Lake Erie, where Villa Angela-St. Joseph High School now stands, was once the largest hyperbaric chamber ever built. The Cunningham Sanitarium was an institution that focused on clean-air breathing treatment. It was built in 1928, only eight miles east of the industrial heart of Cleveland, near East 185th Street at 18485 Lake Shore Boulevard. Named after a Kansas City physician specializing in hyperbaric oxygenation (or "tank treatment,") Doctor Orval J. Cunningham, and funded by Canton-based Timken Roller Bearings Company's owner Henry H. Timken, the Sanitarium's coastal property was chosen because it was aesthetically pleasing.
Dr. Cunningham based his treatment on the belief that diabetes and cancer are caused by living organisms that fail to grow in the presence of oxygen. Therefore, by increasing the oxygen, the organisms fail to multiply and eventually die off. To do this accurately, Cunningham would sequester his patients in highly oxygenated environments for long periods of time cycled with periods of normal atmospheric conditions.
The million-dollar facility, engineered by Alois Hauser, chief engineer of Timken Co. at the time, was considered the first "attempt in human history to house people in such a unique structure." After nearly a year of hard labor by the Melbourne Construction Company, the facility opened to the first of its patients on December 1, 1928. No luxury was spared in the the five-story, sixty-five foot, 900-ton sphere. Able to accommodate forty patients at a time, the climate-controlled environment maintained a steady sixty-eight degrees with sixty-five percent humidity.
Unfortunately, five years after the hospital's opening the depressed financial status of the economy forced Cunningham to sell. Desperate for a buyer, Cunningham offered the institution to his twenty-year-old protégé, James Rand Jr., son of James Rand, president of Remington-Ran New York. The half-million dollar sale took place on September 28, 1934. Renamed the Ohio Institute of Oxygen Therapy, the investment failed to attract patients or an income, and changed hands once again in 1936. Abandoning oxygen therapy and operating as a general hospital, Boulevard Hospital also closed quickly due to financial problems.
After years of being shuttered and unused, the sanitarium and hospital was sold to the Cleveland Catholic Diocese, which built St. Joseph High School next door and continued to operate the former facility in various ways. Under orders from the U.S. War Production Board, on March 31, 1942, the steel ball was dismantled and scrapped for a mere $25,000 worth of metal weight. In 2009, following its purchase from the Catholic Diocese by the Hospice of the Western Reserve, the former sanitarium hospital met a similar fate, with many of its building materials being salvaged for reuse.