Tuberculosis, Warlock Moon
and Camp Arroyo
By Anne Homan
October 26, 2006
Before the advent of antibiotics and the understanding of germ theory, the contagious disease tuberculosis, or consumption, was a significant killer of people of all ages. In 1900 the major cause of mortality in San Francisco was tuberculosis, the cause of 1,132 deaths. Heart disease was second with 619 deaths. Alameda County opened a sanatorium for tuberculosis cases on 258 acres in the foothills along the Arroyo Del Valle in February 1918. Named Arroyo Sanatorium, the hospital was five miles south of Livermore in an open woodland area.
The Livermore Valley climate is drier than portions of Alameda County closer to the bay. This was considered good for TB patients. At this time, the treatment for TB was bed rest and open air.
By 1922 there were 60 staff members and 175 patients at Arroyo, including 40 children. The greater majority of the patients were non-paying. Paying patients were only admitted if there was no waiting list. For paying clients, the cost was $75 per month.
Even those adults who were bed patients worked at occupational therapy. As their health improved, they had extended activities in occupational therapy or enrolled in industrial training classes, for example printing, sewing, barbering, or wireless radio. They were also encouraged to take correspondence courses in such diverse subjects as English, salesmanship, journalism, and bookkeeping.
Mary Henriques’s family moved to Livermore from the Modesto area in 1934 when her father was diagnosed with tuberculosis. He was a patient at Arroyo. Mary remembered visiting the sanatorium grounds as a small child and eagerly watching the window where her father stood and waved at her from the second floor.
In 1924 after funds from the sale of Christmas Seals made it possible to buy more property, the sick children had a separate set-up at the same site called Del Valle Farm. Supported by the Alameda County Tuberculosis Association, the Farm included an in-house school with instruction supervised by the county school superintendent.
In 1960 Herald reporter Joan Agar interviewed Alice Klus, who taught school there for years and “recalled the days when fresh air was thought a help to cure, and patients’ beds were on open porches. In the winter, she taught school wearing sweaters, galoshes, knitted cap, mittens, a warm coat over all, and the inevitable face mask, which had to be changed as she went from building to building.”
Dr. Grace Devnich remembered especially the plight of the children. “They were hard to calm down on Sunday night because their parents were allowed to visit them … only on Sundays could they have visitors. Those children wanted their family.”
According to a 1922 article written by Dr.Chesley Bush, medical director from 1919 to 1949, the sanatorium grounds were used to raise hay and alfalfa for the county dairy at San Leandro, as well as vegetables and fruit for the patients.
In 1945 a young doctor at the sanatorium received permission to treat a patient with the new drug streptomycin. Although the prognosis had been for only a few more days of life, the woman was completely free of the disease three months later.
With the nationwide development of antibiotics and with new procedures for lung surgery, long periods of bed rest in the open air were no longer needed for tubercular patients. The last patient left the Arroyo Sanatorium on August 23, 1960. In its 42 years it had cared for more than 10,000 patients.
The buildings lay vacant for many years. Young people from the Livermore area would sneak into the deserted grounds at night and frighten themselves with spooky stories. The movie Warlock Moon was filmed on the site. Finally, the county assigned the property with its crumbling buildings to the East Bay Regional Park District.
In 1998 the Taylor Family Foundation (TTFF), a private non-profit organization, partnered with the park district to plan Camp Arroyo on the remaining 138-acre sanatorium property. Construction began in September 1999 with the destruction and clearing of most of the old building remnants. A new dining hall, swim complex, and 12 cabins were completed by the spring of 2001.
Each summer the residential camp is open without charge to children from Northern California with life-threatening illnesses and disabilities. According to TTFF’s web site, the hope of the staff is that these children will “build self-esteem, experience the joys of camaraderie and build long-lasting friendships in a supportive environment.”
During school months, the YMCA East Bay uses the site to present educational programs about the environment to local elementary school children. The camp is ideal for this study because the buildings were designed with “green” technology. Bathhouse walls were made of rammed earth from the site. At the time of its construction, the dining hall was the largest building made of straw bales in the United States.
This beautiful site in the hills is in use once again as a place of healing and hope.
( Readers can reach me via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)