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The Public Record 11.11

Dear Maxwell,
I live in East Hill, and I have always admired the old Sacred Heart building. What can you tell us about that?
-Gene W.

……………………

The antique gothic building in the 1000 block of North 12th Ave. was once a state-of-the-art medical facility that helped solidify Pensacola’s place as a commercially booming city just after the turn of the century.

The concept for the hospital came about in 1913 when a prominent local businessman named M.J. Elkan professed the need for proper medical care in Pensacola. Prior to this time, health facilities in the city were limited to a scattering of clinics in converted houses. People in need of surgery or specialty care were forced to take arduous rail journeys to Mobile or New Orleans.

Elkan used the press to make an appeal to the citizens of Pensacola. He asked that 20 individuals or organizations contribute $500 each to a fund of $10,000 to start plans for the hospital. The proposition attracted the attention of Reverend T.H. Kennedy, rector of Sacred Heart church, who referred the Elkan proposal to a Catholic group called the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul in Emmitsburg, Maryland. The organization launched an investigation and found that Pensacola was indeed in great need of a hospital. The Sisters offered their services and a donation of $100,000 to build the new facility.

The Sisters commissioned Austrian architect A.O. von Herbulis to design the plans. Once finished, the blueprints for development far exceeded the budget set forth by the Sisters, however they continued on with the project and agreed to a $400,000 contract proposed by the Evans Brothers construction company out of Birmingham.

The brand new 125-bed facility, named Pensacola Hospital, became the first Catholic hospital in Florida when it opened for business in August 1915. The building was locally referred to as the Pride of West Florida. It was beautifully planned from the exterior of Tudor arches and ornate stonework to the interior of sterilized marble and modern comforts. The hospital provided Pensacola with its first ever surgical, radiological, bacterial and therapeutic facilities.

The hospital could not have come at a better time. Just two years after completion of the structure, a flu epidemic struck. Many of the doctors were away in the armed services of World War I. The Sisters and their volunteers cared for an overflow of patients until the deadly flu passed. Civic leaders awarded the Sisters with an official commendation for their efforts.

In 1948, following the original wishes of Mother Margaret O’Keefe, Pensacola Hospital’s name was changed to Sacred Heart Hospital of Pensacola. In 1965, the hospital moved its operations to North Ninth Ave. where it remains today. The building that was left behind served as a private school from 1969 to 1978. When it was purchased for private enterprise in 1980, it became known as Tower East. Today the building is still in use as the home of businesses including several restaurants, a theater, offices and a veterinary clinic.

Do you have a local history question for The Public Record?
Email it to thepublicrecord@inweekly.net & we’ll see what we can dig up.