Northwestern Hospital in Des Plaines

The hotel on Lee Street served Des Plaines' emergency needs for 21 years

By the late 1920s, Des Plaines and its surrounding suburbs had booming populations. At the same time, a new menace began stalking the formerly quiet streets: the affordable priced automobile.

Before there were widespread streetlights, traffic signals, crumple zones, or the myriad safety devices we now take for granted, automobile accidents were even more dangerous. People who grew up without busy highways and automobiles were less accustomed to watching out for them, drivers often lacked knowledge of the rules of the road, and the cars themselves were less reliable.

It's unsurprising that the front page of the  July 8, 1927 Arlington Heights Herald had in one column, "Busse Announces Plans for Paving New Northwest Highway," and in the next, "Give Plans for New Hospital at Des Plaines." The $400,000, 4-story, 154-patient Maine Memorial Hospital was planned for an area between Park Ridge and Des Plaines, not far from where Lutheran General Hospital was later built. In the area, it would be the second largest building, just below the Maine Township High School, which was being built at the same time.

However, these plans never came to fruition.

In July, 1930, a tiny hospital was established by Dr. R. Parks and Dr. Carl Berns in a former house at River Road and Perry Street. It held 10 beds, 5 nurses, an X-ray, and operating facilities. The Des Plaines Emergency Hospital, however, was bad news.

Weeks after the 'hospital' opened, the builder and promoter of the Chicago Stadium, Paddy Harmon, was speeding down Northwest Highway between Mount Prospect and Des Plaines when he lost control and hit a patch of soft dirt, rolling over as Harmon attempted to recover. A witness had the hospital called, and forty-five minutes later, an ambulance arrived. The three injured were brought to the new hospital. Harmon died of a lung hemorrhage while doctors awaited delivery of an anticoagulant.

On August 17, Dr. Parks was arrested and charged with violating state medical laws. Of the nine auto accident victims brought to the hospital in the previous three weeks, three had died. Parks lacked a license to practice medicine in Illinois, but insisted that he was just the hospital manager and treatment was performed by licensed doctors. It was revealed that in 1923, "Dr." Parks had been sentenced to a year in the Bridewell Prison after he had been shown to be working as an auto mechanic during the day and a doctor at night, and that his medical training had occurred while working in the Bridewell Hospital during a previous stint. Harmon's son investigated Parks when presented with a bill for $200. Mrs. Harmon had been left to lie on the floor from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. A cut on her leg had been treated, but cuts and bruises on her hips were unnoticed until friends insisted she be undressed and put into bed. Parks then presented the bill, and Harmon balked. In another incident, a woman lay dying in the hospital when Parks suggested to the family that they contact a certain Des Plaines undertaker, saying, "She's going to die, and my friend may as well have the business." The hospital was closed in October of the same year.

The Northwestern Hospital was then opened under the direction of Dr. Campbell in August, 1931. On the edge of the Des Plaines Center subdivision, it was housed in an ebullient and ornate terra cotta faced building built in 1929 intended for a bank, but never opened due to the depression. The building was intended to be part of a strip of shops extending downtown Des Plaines, but because of the depression, ended up standing alone. Because it was intended as a bank, the interior lobby was furnished with terrazzo floors and mahogany counters.  Unlike the other hospital, this was recognized by the American Medical Association for use by members of the Chicago Medical Society and carrying insurance. It had full facilities, including an examining room, library, emergency room, x-ray laboratory, two patient suites with baths, a nursery, and other patient and support rooms. All these rooms must have been quite small to fit in this rather average-sized building.

Despite this hospital, the other Des Plaines Emergency Hospital somehow reopened the next year. It was alleged that the highway police, under the control of Lieutenant James Meyering, brother of the Sheriff, would transport accident victims to the disreputable hospital, passing up reputable hospitals in Wheeling and Mount Prospect. Not only that, but they would remove patients from those hospitals and bring them to Des Plaines. The police were paid $5 a head by "Dr." Parks for their trouble. Such was Cook County at the time.

The Emergency Hospital soon closed for good, and Northwestern continued as the main hospital for the Northwest Suburbs until the building of Resurrection Hospital. Northwestern was closed in 1951 and converted into the Drury Northwestern Motel, catering to the busy traffic heading to Chicago in the pre-expressway days. The intersection quickly transformed into one of Des Plaines' first commercial strips, with establishments like Howard Johnson, Dairy Queen, Cock Robin, and River Rand Bowl filling in around the existing taverns and Pesche's Flowers. McDonald's moved in next door April 15, 1955, and the rest is history. The motel remains in business today as the Polo Inn, catering to transients. It was repainted about 10 years ago, obscuring the original colors of the brick and terra cotta.

Brian Wolf May 16, 2011 at 07:59 PM
Well, there's Rand Manor just up the street.
Phil Heller May 17, 2011 at 12:39 AM
You are bringing skeletons out of my closet, Brian....My Uncle Henry and my dad, Philip, were doctors on the staff there......GP's. My dad went to the new Lutheran General and Resurrection Hospitals later.
Phil Heller May 17, 2011 at 12:53 AM
Their offices were on the top of the old bank building, where I would ride with my friends in the "caged elevator" for hours until we go caught by Mr. Eidemiller (Real Estate Owner)....Pranksters were of the norm back then. Kids haven't changed much.....we just got caught more often!
Diane Shay September 06, 2013 at 12:04 AM
Very Interesting!
David Zornig April 28, 2014 at 01:22 PM
The April 2013 flood killed it. It was condemned I read after that.


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