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Cedars-Sinai Celebrates Its Beginnings

Preview of Historical Conservancy Exhibit Will Be Part of Inaugural Founders Day

Cedars-Sinai's earliest predecessor was Kaspare Cohn Hospital, which opened in 1902.

Eight years after a routine phone call inspired the late Leon Morgenstern, MD, to become an advocate for preserving Cedars-Sinai's storied history, the medical center is inaugurating Founders Day and unveiling a preview of its Historical Conservancy exhibit.

Scheduled for Friday, June 6, Founders Day will be an annual observance of the day in 1976 that Cedars-Sinai first opened in its present location. The Historical Conservancy exhibit, a collection of books, documents and artifacts, traces the founding and development of the medical center over the past century.

"Founders Day is a time of celebration, an event that will, hopefully, grow and develop over time," said Jonathan Schreiber, director of Community Engagement and a force behind bringing Morgenstern's vision to fruition.

"We all look with great pride at how Cedars-Sinai has grown over the decades," Schreiber said. "From its humble beginnings in 1902 as the Kaspare Cohn Hospital to the world-class institution it is today, Cedars-Sinai has become an integral part of the community, and continues today to fulfill its mission of putting its patients first."

Opening the Founders Day festivities will be the 11th annual Dr. Leon Morgenstern Great Debates in Clinical Medicine Resident Competition. Founders Day also will include a lunchtime program featuring stories from people who were a part of the 1976 move into the current Cedars-Sinai facility.

In less than one generation, the 12-bed Kaspare Cohn Hospital became Cedars of Lebanon Hospital, large enough to accommodate 278 patients.

Mount Sinai Hospital moved into this new building in 1926. In 1955, it moved to the future site of Cedars-Sinai. Cedars of Lebanon and Mount Sinai merged to become Cedars-Sinai in 1961. A new, combined facility opened in the current location on June 6, 1976.

Like Cedars-Sinai itself, the Founders Day observance and the Historical Conservancy have their own origin stories. While Morgenstern, who served as chair of the Department of Surgery for 33 years, was writing a magazine article, he telephoned St. Vincent Medical Center for some background information. The operator offered to connect Morgenstern to the St. Vincent Historical Conservancy, and in that instant, the idea of Cedars-Sinai's own historical record was born.

"No one knew there was such a thing as a historical conservancy at any hospital in L.A.," said Leo Gordon, MD, an attending physician who has worked at the medical center for 35 years and helped found the Historical Conservancy. "For Dr. Morgenstern, that was the start of the idea to create a historical conservancy here at Cedars-Sinai."

Morgenstern formed a planning committee, and though the group made presentations to administrators at the medical center, the idea for a historical conservancy was initially slow to gain traction. Gordon and his fellow committee members persevered. For the next eight years, they continued to meet, make plans and collect historical materials.

Slowly but surely, the historical archive was created. Gordon took on the task of collecting and preserving important papers and ephemera from physicians who had retired or passed away.

"Not many of the children of doctors are going into medicine these days, so when a parent died, they would go into their parent's study to clean it out, and 30 or 40 years of medical history would get thrown away," Gordon said. "I've been through a lot of attics and garages in the last eight years, picking and choosing and cataloging in the hopes we could really get this thing off the ground."

The turning point for the creation of a historical conservancy came several years ago, when Schreiber learned about the effort.

"The idea of establishing a historical conservancy caught the eye of Jonathan Schreiber, and under his leadership, that's really when everything changed," Gordon said. "Jonathan got things moving, and he is the one who formulated the idea of Founders Day as a yearly reminder to all who work here about where this institution began and what it means."

Events on Founders Day, June 6

  • 8 a.m.: Dr. Leon Morgenstern Great Debates in Clinical Medicine Resident Competition, Harvey Morse Auditorium. The topic will be "Robotics — Medicine or Marketing?"
  • Noon: "June 6, 1976 — You Were There," a presentation on Cedars-Sinai history, Harvey Morse Auditorium. Lunch will be provided.
  • All day: Preview of a new Historical Conservancy exhibit on Cedars-Sinai's past. The exhibit will be in the corridor outside the Medical Library.

Another significant partner in collecting and collating historic materials was Janet Hobbs, manager of the Medical Library.

"Ever since there has been a library at Cedars-Sinai, the staff has been collecting historical items in preparation for the day we would have a historical conservancy," Hobbs said. "We are thrilled to finally have reached this day."

The historic archive includes a one-of-a-kind collection of books, journals, pamphlets, photographs and ephemera. Taken together, they tell the complex and fascinating story of the growth of Cedars-Sinai, its leaders and staff, and the communities the medical center serves, Hobbs said.

In addition to printed matter, visitors to the Historical Conservancy exhibit and the Medical Library can see items such as a parking sticker from 1966, a hospital menu from 1954 and a collection of the peculiar objects — a carpet tack, a nickel, an open safety pin — that were swallowed by the patients of an internist practicing in the 1930s. A portion of the historical archive also can be found online.

Most importantly, though, the Historical Conservancy is about people.

"It is 112 years of the history of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center," Gordon said. "It's the story of men and women of great foresight, and of the genius of coming up with the idea of combining two competing hospitals — Cedars of Lebanon and Mount Sinai — to create a greater whole."

Related story in this issue:

Morgenstern Debaters to Tackle Robotics