Stevens Memorial Hospital in Edmonds was first dedicated January 26, 1964, the culmination of a private community campaign, later turned public, to place a full-service hospital in the growing communities of Edmonds and South Snohomish County. The hospital in turn spurred the establishment of other medical clinics and services in its Seattle Heights neighborhood of Edmonds. Fundraising and community support also continued, with particular contributions made by the women who founded and staffed the Stevens Memorial Hospital Auxiliary. Within a few years, the popular facility was already overcrowded, leading to an expansion of facilities and services completed in 1972. By the end of the twentieth century, however, revenues and public confidence were both falling short. Another campaign followed, to find a way to rebuild trust and keep local access to hospital services. In 2009 the hospital district entered into an agreement with Swedish Medical Center in Seattle. Since 2010, Swedish has run the hospital and controlled its finances, while the hospital district retains ownership of the buildings and local taxing power.
Major changes took place in the greater Seattle area during the two decades that followed World War II. As growth extended beyond the city to the south, east, and north, and west across Puget Sound, small towns expanded their populations and services, and new communities were created. Larger populations increased needs for infrastructure, facilities, and amenities. Large, comprehensive medical centers were among these, including Stevens Memorial Hospital in Edmonds.
Edmonds, a seaside town roughly halfway between Seattle and Everett, was among the established communities that faced marked changes. At war's end Edmonds had approximately 2,000 residents; in 20 years that mushroomed to more than 20,000 and had spawned new surrounding communities with housing developments and retail centers. The Edmonds School District expanded well beyond the namesake town, along with a complex of cultural and social facilities. Construction of Interstate 5, begun at the end of the 1950s, was completed east of Edmonds in 1965. Stevens Memorial Hospital had opened the year before, two miles east of downtown. It was one of several major suburban medical centers to open near Seattle during the postwar period. Notable among these for their significance and longevity are Valley in Renton (1947-1969), Overlake in Bellevue (1960), Northwest in North Seattle (1960), and Evergreen in Kirkland (1972).
Prior to this, suburbanites needing care beyond what their local doctor could provide often traveled to medical facilities in Seattle, many located on the slope just east of the downtown business district in a neighborhood popularly dubbed "Pill Hill." Edmonds residents could also go north to two hospitals in Everett.
Early Edmonds Hospitals
In its early days Edmonds had several small hospitals operated by individual doctors. In the mid 1920s, the small Edmonds General Hospital was located downtown at 221 3rd Avenue S, two blocks south of Main Street. Local doctors could perform minor surgeries and deliver babies there, but sophisticated equipment was lacking. Apparently in late 1929 this hospital closed or was moved to the corner of 9th Avenue and Caspers Street, in a structure that later became the G. C. Smart residence. There seem to have been no hospital projects in Edmonds for several years thereafter.
In September 1950, Dave (b. 1901) and Edith (b. 1906) Mudiman opened Pleasant View Hospital, a former convalescent home, in the same neighborhood. It operated on a 24-hour schedule with registered nurses always on duty. Used by several area doctors, it was reportedly "up-to-date" with six patient rooms, doctors' quarters, a laboratory, and "the latest surgical instruments" (Gaeng). Many babies were born there. The facility apparently closed later in that decade.
By 1960, postwar population growth in south Snohomish County necessitated more medical facilities and planning had begun. As in other communities, the drive to establish a hospital in Edmonds was largely a grassroots effort started by local doctors, business leaders, and other community members including women's groups. Much of the inspiration and leadership in that effort has been attributed to the efforts of Dr. Olav Magnus Sola (1919-2007) and his wife Anne Elizabeth Hauser Sola (1923-2019).
A Founding Couple
Olav Sola was born in Stavanger, Norway, on September 25, 1919, but his family moved to Everett, where he graduated from high school. Educated at Pacific Lutheran University and the University of Washington, he was an Army medic during World War II, after which he returned to the University of Washington for medical school. After several years elsewhere he returned to Washington, joining two partners in a Lynnwood clinic. He also taught cardiac surgery at the UW School of Medicine. During this time he became a founder of Stevens Memorial Hospital, and reportedly he personally guaranteed the loan necessary to get it underway. He practiced there from its founding in 1964 until his retirement in 1987, including a stint as chief of staff. His active retirement was devoted to world travel, development of a major resort at Lake Chelan, and cardiac research at the Hope Heart Institute in Seattle. He died on April 17, 2007, at the hospital he had helped to found.
When Anne Sola died a dozen years later, she was remembered as "Mrs. Stevens Hospital" (Muhlstein). Born and raised in Portland, Oregon, she met her husband when both were University of Washington students, she receiving an English degree. After they married she became his office manager and together they worked hard with others to promote the creation of a local hospital. She was involved in paperwork relating to the hospital and was said to have gone door to door to raise interest, votes, and funds. She also helped found the Stevens Memorial Hospital Auxiliary and was its early president.
Plans and Documents
Other community leaders, primarily from Edmonds, took part in the initial planning during the late 1950s.They included political activist Kenneth T. Caplinger (1912-1997), attorneys Charles W. Shepherd (1919-2004) and Charles Ralls (1904-1979), fishing wharf operator James D. Haines (1920-2005), and wood products company executive Edwin W. Cronkhite (1901-1983) of nearby Mountlake Terrace. Early on it was decided to name the proposed hospital for Isaac Stevens, the first governor of Washington Territory, who was killed fighting for the Union in the Civil War. By early 1959, serious planning was underway. The privately held Stevens Memorial Hospital Corporation, owned by the Stevens Memorial Medical Research Foundation, was formed with plans to build a 108-bed hospital in the Seattle Heights area, about two miles east of downtown Edmonds and near the new Edmonds High School building. The estimated cost, including land purchase, was $1.7 million, to be financed by sales of stock.
Seattle architects Ralf E. Decker (1903-1971) and Waldo B. Christenson (1908-1959) were hired to prepare preliminary plans. A financial consultant had also been hired and the group worked closely with the City of Edmonds engineer James Reid. At some point in the hospital's early years the private ownership withdrew in favor of a public facility. A Public Hospital District was formed in the spring of 1967. Early leaders of the district included doctors Alfred Mueller and Calvin Ulberg (1923-1985), and wood products manufacturer and community activist Del Barton (1919-2007). Stockholders with debenture certificates from the original group were advised how to redeem their certificates.
One major support group for the hospital was also was the Stevens Memorial Hospital Auxiliary. Formed by women in the Edmonds community in 1959, the auxiliary eventually consisted of at least 16 individual units totaling more than 300 members. Each unit established one or more specific goals and undertook fundraising and other efforts to assist the hospital. Members were a cross-section of Edmonds women, including educators, nurses, and other professional women, wives of doctors, community leaders, and others. The overall group was led by a set of council officers and chairs of the units. Units chose their names from prominent community leaders of the past and present and historical personalities. These included early missionaries Narcissa Prentiss [Whitman] (1808-1847) and Eliza Spaulding (1807-1851), and local figures Etta Brackett (1859-1934), educator Frances Anderson (1890-1990), pioneering oncologist Simeon Cantril (d. 2003), as well as contemporary physician Robert A. Anderson (1928-2007).
Each unit adopted specific goals and activities. They raised money to purchase equipment, furnishings, and other needs. For instance, an early auxiliary pamphlet noted its funds had "leased coronary care equipment for the ICU-CCU wing, furnished the fifth floor [and] the Quiet Room, provided C. P. R. equipment, cardiac pacemaker equipment, therapy equipment, emergency room equipment, I. V. monitor systems for coronary care and landscaping for hospital grounds" ("Stevens Memorial Hospital..."). To raise money and provide services, auxiliary units undertook community activities that included bazaars, garden tours, a Seattle Underground Tour, a blood draw, and the Hospital Gift Shop. One group gave ski lessons including bus service for children; another held a kindergarten at a shopping mall; and a third offered polio inoculations. The auxiliaries continued to serve the hospital for many years, at least into the middle 1980s.
Ready or Not
Hospital construction continued in 1963 toward an anticipated grand opening in late December. But uncommonly damp November weather caused delays. Interior plaster walls did not dry, holding up other finishing projects. Nevertheless, a press tour of the building went on amidst "dangling wires, wet plaster, roaring space heaters, mud and rain" (Lane, "Damp Delays..."). Hospital administrator Robert J. Myers led other staff to show the building that cost over $2 million. It would be the largest all-electric hospital in the Pacific Northwest, drawing about 20,000 kilowatts of power. A research laboratory was included. Hospital leaders anticipated a million-dollar annual payroll, and noted that nearly half of the 225 full-time employees would be registered nurses. There were amenities: nurses in the maternity area would wear pink and blue uniforms, and patients would not be awakened before 7 a.m., at which time "'all he needs to do is ring a bell and he will get a cup of coffee'" (Lane, "Damp Delays...").
As weather improved and the plaster dried, a new opening date was set for January 26, 1964. At the opening ceremony the architect presented Dr. Sola, president of the Board of Trustees, with a large key to the hospital. Amidst local participants, Gov. Albert D. Rosellini (1910-2011) served as speaker.
The first patient to be admitted was Mrs. Raymond Phelps of nearby Alderwood Manor who gave birth to the first baby. Daughter Tamara Lynn arrived an hour after her mother was admitted. More patients began to arrive even though there was still construction work to finish. In February The Seattle Times reported that "men dressed in work clothes still are nearly as common as white-clad doctors and nurses in [the] same hallways" (Lane, "Builders...").
A Range of Services
Stevens Hospital quickly became a fixture in Edmonds and south Snohomish County. It was where one went to meet most medical needs: the scene of births and deaths, of routine physicals and specialized examinations, emergencies, and treatment for major injuries as well as small scratches. Many if not most local doctors used Stevens as their primary hospital. There was a sense of pride and reassurance as it met the needs for most of the community. One who "got to know Stevens Hospital pretty well" was the Sola's son Doug. The high school athlete had a concussion playing baseball: "I remember stumbling through the ER. Dad took me up there. Yeah, I was there a few times over the years" (Soergel).
The immediate neighborhood, centering on an intersection known historically as Holmes Corner, spawned nearby doctors' offices, clinics, and pharmacies. One distinctive facility, constructed even before the hospital and remaining in 2020, was a cluster of small Polynesian-style structures built as a clinic. Medical facilities were also built just east of the hospital toward the Highway 99 arterial.
Growth and Reconstruction
As population expanded in all directions from downtown Edmonds, Stevens Hospital got busier. In less than a decade the hospital district decided to expand on the relatively new building. A nine story "tower" that incorporated floors of the original building was attached to its west facade. Designed by the architectural firm of Decker, Kolb & Stansfield, the addition was constructed under the supervision of Howard S. Wright Construction Company. It rose above a sub-basement that housed mechanical equipment and a basement converted to a new surgical operating suite. The third floors of the old and new buildings were connected to provide a new entrance lobby for patients, staff members, and visitors, along with discharge space. Most other floors had specific purposes: radiology, dietary services, offices, as well as patient rooms and nursing services with 276 beds. The designers and builders proudly noted the latest and most up-to-date construction features, heating and cooling elements, and improved movement and communication services. The goal of it all was "modern hospital innovations ... to provide for efficient and economical operation to render effective patient care and comfort" ("Dedication Program...1972").
A public dedication ceremony opened the reconstructed hospital on January 23, 1972. The building immediately became a landmark, the tallest in the Edmonds community. By the end of the twentieth century, Stevens Hospital was regarded as more than a home-grown source of pride; it was a well established and entirely routine part of life – and death – in Edmonds and the fast-growing vicinity. But time and perhaps self-assurance dimmed the excitement and threatened the success and optimism.
All was not well. Several years of financial problems, criticisms of hospital directors and administrators, and conditions within the hospital led to an undercurrent of concerns by patients and physicians. In late March 2004 the local newspaper summed up public dissatisfaction beneath a glaring headline: "Stevens Hospital faces public criticism: It must address its fading reputation in the community, board told" (Salyer, "Stevens..."). Community leaders expressed a range of concerns. Revenue was down. For years the hospital had been losing money, leading the board to fire the chief executive Steve McCary in January 2004. Many local residents were opting to go to Everett hospitals instead of their local one. A prominent doctor who had practiced in the community for 35 years noted a lack of public confidence: "I have patients all the time who will not come to this hospital. It hurts me. I love this hospital" (Salyer, "Stevens..."). He added that local emergency medical technicians and firefighters were advising patients against going to Stevens. A former Lynnwood mayor noted "horror stories" about the hospital, and a former hospital foundation member added that the public attitude toward the institution ran "very deep. I think the damage has been done" (Salyer, "Stevens...").
About the same time some community members stated that the once loved hospital was poorly located. Although it was in the heart of Edmonds, the south Snohomish County populations had been moving easterly. Much growth was well outside the Edmonds city limits. Perhaps the hospital should be relocated farther east.
The ultimate solution to these problems came from a once unexpected source and brought permanent change. Older, well established hospitals in Seattle began to branch out into the suburbs, establishing small clinics and then seeking mergers. Late in 2009 an agreement was reached in which Seattle's Swedish Medical Center would take over the management of Stevens. Founded in 1910 by Dr. Nils August Johansen, a Swedish immigrant and father-in-law of businessman Elmer Nordstrom, Swedish was governed by trustees of Swedish descent for over 60 years. Its building on First Hill became one of the city's largest and most respected hospitals.
The agreement with Stevens Hospital was a nonbinding lease and a management plan that meant the local commissioners of the hospital district would no longer oversee the operations of the hospital. The public hospital district that had governed Stevens would retain ownership of the buildings and maintain the right to levy taxes, but Swedish would lease the hospital. Swedish also committed itself to make significant changes and to capital improvements including new construction.
Changes for Edmonds' Largest Employer
The changeover took place on September 1, 2010, following final approval of the agreement from the state Department of Health. Stevens would be no more: the hospital became Swedish Medical Center Edmonds. Announcement of the changeover noted significant changes in facilities and operations. Such changes were consistent with other acquisitions of medical centers by Swedish in suburban Seattle. It was agreed that Stevens's staff of 1,200 would remain in place; the hospital was Edmonds' largest employer. The Swedish president and chief operating officer noted that both hospitals were financially sound at that point but Stevens needed "a strong partner in order to grow and improve" ("Swedish to Lease ...").
Swedish/Edmonds Hospital did indeed change and grow in its first decade. New construction included a total modernization of its central lobby and adjacent facilities. Existing buildings on the campus were modified and modernized and new ones built including a large parking garage. The campus extended more than four blocks west from 76th Avenue N to Highway 99. Its home page boasted of having 217 licensed beds, over 450 highly qualified physicians and specialists, over 1,400 staff including clinical and non-clinical personnel, and a "full scope of medical and surgical services, including Level IV Trauma emergency medicine, diagnostic, treatment and support services" (Swedish/Edmonds).
Swedish/Edmonds Hospital emerged from a remarkable culmination of a community-based effort that originated by a handful of medical specialists, community leaders and participants, including an energetic cadre of local women a half century earlier. It had become Swedish/Edmonds. But to many long-time Edmonds residents the old name was hard to change. To them, it was and would continue to be Stevens Hospital.