The Best Little Hospital in Orange County
Buried away in Jim Sleeper’s biography of Dan Baker, Turn the Rascals Out! (1973) is a little squib about the first Orange County Hospital.
Actually, the story is about an early Santa Ana whore house.
In September 1897 “Mysterious Bill” Wright and his wife, Mary (known for some reason as “Glass-eyed Mollie”) opened a “house of ill fame” on East Second Street. The local police finally got around to raiding them in November, and they were also charged with selling liquor without a license. Bill promptly paid his bail – $500 in cash – and hired a prominent Los Angeles attorney to defend them.
The case bounced through several courts, and at least one conviction was reversed due to the “obvious bias of the Santa Ana judge.” But Santa Ana kept at it, convicted them again, and in March 1898 the two agreed to leave town for good.
Dan Baker’s niece, Clara Cushman, added the coda to the tale – the now empty whore house was converted into the county hospital. “It seemed built for the purpose,” she recalled, “one large reception room, a long hall and a lot of small rooms on the sides. It was a real find!”
A couple years ago, when I was running the County Archives, a conscientious historian asked me if there was any proof to the story. Jim’s only citation was to Cushman’s recollections, but turning to the records of the time, it turns out that – as usual – Mrs. Cushman got it right.
On March 6, 1901 the Orange County Board of Supervisors agreed to rent a building on the south side of Second Street, between French and Spurgeon, from George Wright for hospital purposes. (George seems to have been “Mysterious Bill’s” father). The rent was $8 a month, and Mr. Wright was allowed to retain one room in which to live. Later the rent was increased to $15 a month. The lease seems to have expired at the end of 1905, and the hospital moved to another location in downtown Santa Ana. It was not until 1914 that a modern hospital building was erected in West Orange (now the site of UCI Medical Center).
So, you never know what a little research can prove.