Sanitarium and its successor promoted health and wellness – Boulder Daily Camera

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Those of us who have been in Boulder for a few decades remember Memorial Hospital at Fourth Street and Mapleton Avenue. My kids took swimming lessons in the indoor pool. And in one of the rooms overlooking the landscaped grounds, I said goodbye to an elderly friend.
Even then, few of the visitors or patients knew of the site’s past –– that Memorial had evolved from a sanitarium known for promoting health and wellness for both body and soul. Now, both are gone.
Dr. John Harvey Kellogg opened the Boulder Sanitarium in 1896, based on the Battle Creek Sanitarium in Michigan. Both sanitariums were owned by the Seventh Day Adventist Church.
According to the facility’s literature, people of all ages came for “refreshment of the mind, body, and spirit.” Ideal guests were overworked men and overweight women. The resorts combined the features of a medical boarding house, hospital, religious retreat, country club, and spa in an atmosphere of reform and asceticism.
In addition to the main hospital building, the site included a powerhouse, laundry and bakery. Later additions brought small cottages and hen houses, along with a dairy barn, greenhouse and an icehouse. A smokestack constructed in the 1920s replaced three earlier, shorter ones. A nurses’ dormitory was built in 1930.
Alternative medical practices were in vogue at the time, including enemas and electric shock treatments. Kellogg’s advice on food, though, was timeless. He told his patients to “eat what the monkey eats — simple food and not too much of it.”
When patients first arrived, they were allowed meat, white bread, and caffeinated coffee and tea. Then they could have meat, but not coffee or tea. Finally, they graduated to a diet in which no “food poisons” were served at all.
The sanitarium even had its own food company where Kellogg (known for his corn flakes) whipped up peanut butter and combined it with nuts and grains conveniently prepared into granola and other cereals.
Between the 1920s and 1950s, the sanitarium went through several remodels. Gradually, the old parts of the “San” were replaced with new additions. In the late 1950s, the name was changed to Boulder Memorial Hospital. In 1989, Memorial was bought by Boulder Community Hospital and became the Mapleton Center. The Seventh Day Adventist Church replaced Memorial Hospital with the Avista Adventist Hospital in Louisville.
In 2014, Mapleton Hill Investments LLC purchased the site, then demolished the old hospital for the purpose of building a retirement community.
In the early days, when Dr. Howard Rand joined Kellogg’s practice, he praised the “outdoor gymnasiums,” where, contrary to society’s then-elaborate fashion standards, both men and women exercised in loose-fitting clothing. Afterward, they were encouraged to “proceed up the mountain, gather beautiful wildflowers, and rest the eye on the surrounding scenery.”
The mountain’s name is “Sanitas,” with a popular hiking trail of the same name. Both “sanitarium” and “sanitas” are derived from Latin, meaning “health or soundness of body.”
Listen to the real old-timers –– the ones who have been in Boulder the longest –– and they will tell you that the word “SAN-i-tas” is accented on the first syllable, just like sanitarium. Now that the Boulder Sanitarium and Memorial Hospital are gone, the mountain’s name and a few memories are all we have left.
Silvia Pettem writes about Boulder County history. She can be contacted at She and Carol Taylor alternate the “In Retrospect” history column.
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