Provident won't be forgotten

Garden commemorates closed black hospital

July 25, 2000|By J. Kimball C. Payne | J. Kimball C. Payne,SUN STAFF

Provident Hospital may be history, but Bon Secours Baltimore Health System is working to make sure the hospital and its benefactors stay in the public memory.

Bon Secours, which took over and made the decision to close the financially failing hospital, is planning a historical garden and memorabilia display on the site, where a new medical services center is being built.

Spokeswoman Phyllis T. Reese said Bon Secours views the garden as a "commemorative gift back to the community" that should help salve the pain of many black residents, for whom Provident was long a source of pride.

The garden could ease the concerns of such people as former Baltimore City Council member Victorine Q. Adams, a longtime Provident supporter who feared the hospital's and its supporters' contributions would be forgotten.

"We want to show off our history, not hide it," said Adams, as she sat in her West Baltimore home recently, flanked by mementos from the hospital.

Adams was among the group of community leaders who wondered what had become of the plaques, pictures and dedications from the decade-long movement to fund the hospital's $16 million construction, which was finished in 1970. They began searching in recent months for the artifacts.

She said the individuals, families, and businesses that made donations had been assured their gifts would be commemorated in the Provident lobby; she lamented that the labor that created the hospital seemed overlooked.

"The people and groups who gave money were told this archive would exist," she said, "and we want to honor that promise."

So do Bon Secours officials. Several floors below the construction project that's transforming the former hospital into a healthcare service center called Liberty Village lie two rooms filled with memorabilia that chronicles the former hospital's history.

Display is discussed

One proposal being discussed is a display of the many plaques, pictures, certificates, and newspaper clippings stored there.

Begun in a rowhouse in 1894, Provident Hospital moved to the 1500 block of Division St. in 1929, to occupy a building vacated by Union Memorial Hospital. Provident stayed there until 1970, when its new building was completed at 2600 Liberty Heights Ave.

The fund-raising goal for construction was $60,000, but thanks to the work of Adams and many others, the African-American community raised more than $1 million.

But as the city's population dwindled and the face of health care changed, the hospital faltered financially.

1986 merger

In 1986, Provident merged with Lutheran Hospital to become Liberty Medical Center. But financial problems continued, forcing a merger with Bon Secours Hospital in 1996. The hospital closed for good last year.

The proposed 500-square-foot garden would commemorate the Provident, Lutheran, and Liberty hospitals.

Officials plan to start building the garden within a year, along both Towanda and Liberty Heights Avenue. It would have a brick walkway that crosses a small brook, and benches that would allow patients and history seekers to sit among beds of black-eyed Susans, lilacs, and rhododendrons and under maple and birch trees. Metal plaques would be placed throughout the garden to memorialize the hospitals' history.

The initiatives are due in large part to Percy Allen II, who became chief operating officer of Bon Secours Baltimore Health Center in November. Allen designated the former hospital's history an important part of Bon Secours future.

`Achievements of the past'

"I wanted to demonstrate that we recognize the contributions and achievements of the past," Allen said. "The best part about the garden is that while it talks about the past it leads the hospital into the future."

"The blessing in all of this is that Percy Allen is sensitive and has made this a priority," said Charles J. Tildon, who supervised the Provident fund-raising effort and served as the hospital's development director.

"We don't want to act like it [Provident's history] didn't happen ... We have something here to be proud of."

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