Historic California Posts, Camps, Stations and Airfields
Birmingham General Hospital
(Van Nuys General Hospital, Prisoner of War Branch Camp)
 
Aerial view of Birmingham General Hospital, at Van Nuys, Calif. Designated US Army General Hospital by War Department General Order 48, dated 24 August 1943. The construction was a “Type-A”, one-story semi-permanent Hospital, built out of brick and stucco, with wards placed on both sides of corridors. Authorized bed capacity was 1,777, and first patients were not received before 25 February 1944. Medical specialties covered syphilis treatment, rheumatic fever, and psychiatry.
 
 
Birmingham General Hospital
by Richard E. Osbourne

Authorized by War Department General Order 48, 24 August 1943, this hospital as built in Van Nuys in late 1943 and early 1944 to serve as both a general hospital and a debarkation hospital. Originally named Van Nuys General Hospital, it was soon renamed in honor of Named for Brigadier General Henry Patrick Birmingham, Medical Corps, U.S. Army (born 1854, died 1932). It received its first patient on 25 February 1944. Its stucco buildings had 1777 beds, of which 800 were devoted to debarkation activities. The hospital specialized in general medicine, central nervous system syphilis, rheumatic fever and psychiatry. The hospital had a small prisoner of war compound. Due to it location so close to Hollywood, may radio and movie stars visited patients at the hospital. Jack Benny even brodcasted his annual Christmas Part from the hospital in 1944.

The offical Army history of World War II makes reference to a study at Birmingham General Hospital of an antibiotic ointment on patients with chronically infected compound fractures by a MAJ Joseph Weinberg. This was one of the first topical uses of penecillin.

On 31 March 1946 the hospital was transferred to the Veterans Administration. Marlon Brando lived for one month at Birmingham VA Hospital to study for his movie role as a paraplegic veteran. The movie was "The Men", released in 1950, directed by Fred Zimmerman and produced by Stanley Kramer. Jack Webb was also in the movie. For more details, see below. The VA closed the hospital in 1950. After 1950 the facility was converted into local use for public schools, while the army retained a piece for use in the air defense of Los Angeles. Part of the former Birmingham Army Hospital facility was used as an air defense missile battalion headquarters from April 1956 to November 1968. The units located there during that timeframe were Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 551st Anti-Aircraft Artillery Missile Battalion, which was redesignated in September 1958 as Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 4th Battalion, 65th Artillery.

The former hospital/Nike complex is now Birmingham High School and Junior High School and the West Valley Special Education Center.

Source: World War II Sites in the United States: A Tour Guide and Directory by Richard E. Osbourne


Post Cards from the Veterans Administration Period
 
Birmingham Veterans Administration Hospital is located at the corner of Balboa Ave. and Van Owen St., Van Nuys, Calif. 114 buildings are spread over 146.3 acres, most of which are connected by about 3 miles of covered corridors. It is a General Medical and Surgical Hospital and has a record evaluation, including almost $2,000,000 worth of equipment, of about $7,500,000. The authorized bed capacity is 1500, and 1650 employees are required to operate the many services and facilities available to patients.
 
 
Administration Building and Nurses Quarters. The center building immediately behind the flag pole and circle houses only part of the administrative offices of the hospital. About 350 nurses are housed in six other buildings of the type shown here.
Chapel. Each evening at the close of business for many of the administrative staff the musical chimes located in the chapel tower play religious and patriotic music for about five minutes. Regular services of all faiths are held in the chapel. Catholic, Jewish and Protestant chaplains are on the hospital staff.
 
 
Brigadier General Henry Patrick Birmingham
 
Henry Patrick Birmingham was born March 4, 1854 in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Thomas and Margaret Tarpey Birmingham from Ireland. The family moved to St. Paul, Minnesota in 1857. General Birmingham graduated from the University of Michigan in 1876 where he received his medical degree. He practiced medicine for two years in civil life.

In February 1887, Henry Birmingham married Myra Clarke in New York. In November of that same year his wife Myra and infant daughter Margarite died. General Birmingham later married Myra's older sister Clara Clarke. They had three sons, Richard, a West Point graduate; Henry, U.S. Marine Corps, a graduate of Annapolis, and William, also a graduate of Annapolis. They also had two daughters, Ada married to Everette Harman, and Clara Birmingham, and one granddaughter, Evelyn Harman Eglin.

General Birmingham served the United States Army as a contract surgeon from November 2, 1878, to March 1, 1881. He entered the commissioned ranks of the Army as an assistant surgeon March 2, 1881. He was promoted to captain, assistant surgeon in the army in 1886, and later to major brigade surgeon United States Volunteers in 1898. That same year he became major surgeon, Medical Corps, Regular Army.

Ten years later in 1908, Birmingham was promoted to lieutenant colonel; then colonel in 1911, and a brigadier general in 1917. General Birmingham served as brigadier general, National Army, from October 13, 1917, to March 15, 1918. He was retired in his permanent grade of colonel after reaching the statutory age limit of sixty-four years. He was advanced to the grade of brigadier general on the retired list on June 21, 1930 under the provisions of an act of Congress approved that date.

The long military career of General Birmingham extended over a period of thirty-seven years' active commissioned service. He was a veteran of the Indian and Spanish American wars, Philippine insurrection, occupation, and as a medical observer with the American Expeditionary forces in France during World War I. During the encampment of 20,000 men at San Antonio in 1914, and the subsequent expedition at Vera Cruz, Brigadier General Birmingham, then a colonel, was acting Surgeon General. He kept the camp free from contagion, and the men in good health. His methods of sanitation later received widespread commendation. He was described by General McArthur writing to his daughter Clara as "an officer of marked ability and extensive experience in the Medical Department; a splendid administrator and executive of the highest professional and personal standards."

He retired in 1918, and was immediately recalled to active duty. He served another eleven years as Commandant, Medical Officers' Training Camp, Georgia, United States General Hospital No. 14, and finally as head of the United States Soldiers' Home Hospital in Washington, DC until 1922.

General Birmingham died on May 4, 1932 in Washington, DC at Walter Reed Hospital at the age of seventy-eight. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery with military honors.

(Sources for this history include: New York Tribune, May 5, 1932, letter to Clara Birmingham from General Douglas McArthur, and letter from granddaughter Evelyn Harman Eglin.)
 


Marlon Brando's First Film

Before he played Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire, Marlon Brando portrayed a paraplegic war veteran in The Men. For local history buffs, what's notable about this 1950 film (besides castmates Jack Webb and Teresa Wright, and an Oscar nomination for Carl Foreman's screenplay) is the copious footage of Birmingham Army Hospital in Van Nuys. Soon after, the hospital was converted into Birmingham High School (alma mater of Michael Ovitz, Sally Field et al). Built in a rush during World War II, the hospital received wounded GIs via railroad cars and long convoys of ambulances from the hospital ships in Long Beach. The sight of thousands of amputees and paralyzed vets on the grounds and in the community brought the war's toll home to the Valley. Many Hollywood stars performed benefits at Birmingham.
 
 
 
Army Units Assigned to Birmingham General Hospital
 

 Data Source

Date(s)

 Unit(s)
 Army of the United States Station List  7 April 1945
Army Service Forces
  • 1986th Service Command Unit (Birmingham General Hospital)
 9th Service Command Station List  1 March 1946
Army Service Forces
  • 1964th Service Command Unit (Hospital Train Unit)
  • 1986th Service Command Unit (Birmingham General Hospital)
 
 
 
 
Prisoner of War Branch Camp
 
Prisoner of War Branch Camp was established effective 3 July 1945 at the Birmingham General Hospital, Van Nuys, California - per General Order 71, Headquarters, Ninth Service Command, Fort Douglas, Utah, dated 3 3uly 1945. It was a branch camp of the Prisoner of War Camp at Camp Haan, California, It held 45 prisoner to support hospital operations. Discontinued effective 8 September 1945 per General order 106, Headquarters, Ninth Service Command dated 11 September 1945.
 
Historical Data Card, US Army Center of Military History
 
 
 
 
Extract, War Department Inventory of Owned, Sponsored and Leased Facilities, 1945
 
 
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Updated 23 June 2017