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Did You Know: Tempe Was Home To Arizona State Tuberculosis Sanatorium

It served as a state health facility for decades. It no longer exists, but its role in the community was important. 

Perched on a hill and hidden behind bushes just off Curry Road and Mill Avenue in Tempe is a building owned by Arizona State University. It’s known as the former children’s hospital. Initially, the building was a tuberculosis hospital.  But, there’s more to the story. Did you know the adjacent parking lot is the exact spot where the original Arizona State Tuberculosis Sanatorium stood for decades — and it’s basement is still there?

“It’s still under the parking lot, probably just filled in with debris and dirt," said Jared Smith, curator at the Tempe History Museum.

“People are driving over it as we speak right now They’re driving actually through the old hospital. Very kind of odd thing to think about," said Smith. "And who knows how many of those folks have any clue that the original building was there.”

The Tempe sanatorium featured Islamic architecture with a dome, minaret-like pillars and Middle Eastern style windows. When the building opened in 1934, the area was considered the outskirts of the small town of Tempe. It was built close to the highway — what we know today as Mill Avenue.

“They weren’t trying to hide it. I mean in fact it’s almost by building the architecture that way they’re trying to destigmatize TB," Smith said.

The estimated 60-room sanatorium was built by the Civil Works Administration, the federal jobs creations program established after the Great Depression.

“It was a state hospital and I think it show especially at that time, the need to show that the state is taking care of that," said Smith.

Smith said Arizona was growing. Cities and towns were expanding and jobs were being created. That also meant there was a growing need to care for the increasing number of TB patients. All this prompted the construction of a modern sanatorium. Well-known Tempe doctor Benjamin B. Moeur was among its biggest supporter.

“He gave one of the main introductory speeches, probably the main speech to introduce this new hospital. Obviously he was very much in favor of it. Probably helped to get some of the new deal funds. Oh, by the way, he’s governor of Arizona,” said Smith.

Historians believe the hospital’s large basement housed the building’s specialized equipment.

“We’re not talking about a root cellar here. We’re talking about something very substantial underpinning the whole building," Smith said.

By the 1950s, there was talk of building a new, larger sanatorium. In 1964, the new TB hospital opened — right next to the old one. 

That sanatorium only served TB patients for another 10 years. In the 1970s it became Arizona’s first children’s hospital.

→  Hear More 'Did You Know' Stories

Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez was a reporter at KJZZ from 2008 to 2015.