Filed Under Healthcare

Cunningham Sanitarium

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.

Images

Cunningham Sanitarium, ca. 1920s The hospital was designed according to the specifications and direction of of hyperbaric treatment specialist Dr. Orval J. Cunningham, a Kansas City physician treating diabetes and cancer with pressurized oxygen. The hyperbaric chamber that was constructed is the largest ever built. Image Courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections.
Front View of Cunningham Sanitarium Built in 1928 as a companion to the Timken Tank, the Hospital was created to house up to sixty patients while they awaited their treatment in the hyperbaric chamber (the steel ball). Investor H. H. Timken guaranteed that no luxury would be spared within the walls of the institution, which he modeled after leading New York hotels. Image Courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections.
Spherical Hyperbaric Chamber The five-story, sixty-five foot, 900-ton sphere was constructed out of half-inch steel plates. Many likened the tank experience to that of a ship. With three tanks in total, light was allowed into the hospital through 350 ten inch portholes. Image Courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections.
Partially Dismantled Sphere, 1942 Dismantled by the Kulka Co. for the war effort in 1942, the Cunningham Sanitarium's hyperbaric chamber yielded $25,000 worth of steel to the construction of military tanks. Note the sign at the foreground of the photo saying "War Material for the United States Government". Image Courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections.
Sanitarium Dining Hall Inside the hospital dining hall at the Cunningham Sanitarium. The vaulted ceilings, chandeliers, floor-length drapes, and tile flooring all blended together to give patients a luxurious hotel experience while awaiting their treatment. Image Courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections.
Fifth-floor Rec Room - Smoking Allowed The fifth floor recreation room within the Timken Tank. It is rumored that Frank Seiberling, the Akron tire tycoon, was among those who were treated within the facility. One evening while enjoying a game of poker he accidentally ashed his cigarette onto his own jacket, igniting the garment. Thankfully, Timken and Cunningham had taken preventative measures and installed automatic showers on every floor. Image Courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections.
Sleeping Quarters One of the thirty-six patient rooms within the Timken Tank. Each double occupancy room had its own adjoining private bath. For safety purposes no wood was used anywhere near the sleeping quarters which made up the three middle floors. Image Courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections.
Interior Hallway The view inside the spherical sanitarium was not unlike that of a ship. Image Courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections.

Location

18485 Lakeshore Blvd, Cleveland, OH 44119 | Demolished

Metadata

Morgan Choffin, “Cunningham Sanitarium,” Cleveland Historical, accessed May 24, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/378.