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Hospital to be demolished

A wrecking ball and bulldozers are slated to begin tearing down the historic Southwestern Hospital on West Lee Boulevard by late this week.

While the former hospital in the 400 block of West Lee Boulevard has deteriorated into an eyesore for residents, an attractive nuisance for vandals and a migraine for the City of Lawton, some native Lawtonians remember when the hospital was the one of the most modern in Oklahoma and one of the last physician-owned hospitals to sell to a corporation.

The roots of the facility wind back to Lawton's first decade and its branches include numerous upgrades, frequently attended by an expansion of the ranks of the physician-owners and always linked to modernization efforts that kept the facility on the forefront of medical advancements. Those advancements stopped in the mid-1980s when the corporate owner decided it needed a new site for the modern hospital it envisioned. The vacated hospital was deeded to the Kiowa-Comanche-Apache Intertribal Land Use Committee in 1991, and while KCA members had plans to upgrade the 65,000-square-foot building and turn it to their use, deterioration and costs prevented that from happening.

The structure has been vacant since the last of its staff and patients left in spring 1986 to move to what was the new AMI Southwestern Hospital in the 5600 block of West Lee Boulevard, and it has been on the City of Lawton's condemnation list since 2014.

Historic hospital

It was a rude end for an historic hospital.

According to "A Matter of Pride: The 90 Year History of Southwestern Hospital" by Sheilah O'Heaney, the physician-owned facility was born in the months following creation of Lawton's first official hospital, Lawton Public Hospital. While there had been other efforts by physicians and nurses to create places of treatment, Lawton Public Hospital was a concerted effort by local physicians to provide a real hospital, created in the aftermath of the 1905 tornado that destroyed Snyder and left many residents needing medical care.

Lawton Sanitarium Company, a legal entity created by those physicians in March 1906, opened its hospital at 602 Gore Boulevard and among the board members were James L. Lewis and William Turner, contract doctors at Fort Sill who decided to go into private practice in the fledging city. Six months later, Lewis, Turner and Dr. D.M. Myers split off from the main group of doctors who couldn't agree on how that original hospital was to operate.

Lewis was the driving force of the Lewis-Turner Partnership (Myers had left), taking it upon himself in January 1907 to buy two lots at the corner of Fourth Street and South Boundary (now Lee Boulevard) from legendary early-day Lawtonian Mattie Beal Payne to house the Turner & Lewis Private Hospital and Training School for Nurses.

Indoor electricity

Construction plans, which had changed from original schematics released to the local media, showed a two-story hospital with two three-bed wards and six private rooms and a first floor that was partially underground. The hospital had a real operating room and was one of the first buildings in Lawton to have indoor electricity and natural gas.

When the facility was ready to accept patients in October 1907, news accounts outlined the contents of what it called a wonder of modern technology, with iron beds, polished hardwood floors, a full kitchen and a clear view of the East Cache Creek valley from its patient windows. The hospital was ahead of its time with a strict emphasis on infection control and prevention.

Turner didn't remain in the partnership: He sold to Lewis in January 1910 and left Lawton to begin a life in Mexico. Lawton Public Hospital didn't stick around long either: It closed its doors in 1910 and ceded its patients to Lewis & Turner Private Hospital.

The Lawton Constitution

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