Putting Marquam Hill on the Map: Early Campus Memories, 1915-1932


Medical Science Building on Marquam Hill, c. 1919-1921. Richard B. Dillehunt Photograph Album [2004-001].

 After its establishment in 1887, the University of Oregon Medical School first operated out of a former grocery store, and then in a compact building on what is now Northwest 23rd and Marshall street on the Good Samaritan Hospital grounds. The building was moved again in 1889 and 1893 as road and campus improvements were made.

Kenneth A. J. Mackenzie succeeded Simeon Josephi as Dean of the medical school in 1912. As a founding faculty member of UOMS, Dean Mackenzie had seen the growing need for larger labs and better equipment with each successive graduating class. Dr. Mackenzie had served as chief surgeon for the Oregon-Washington Railroad and Navigation Company and had strong connections to the company board. In 1914, Mackenzie persuaded the railroad company to donate twenty acres atop Marquam Hill for the medical school. The land, unusable to the railroad company, came to be known as “Mackenzie’s Folly” in reference to its location on an inaccessible hilltop, a mile and a half away from the city center. But Mackenzie saw it through a different perspective: He envisioned a medical center far away from the noise and grime of the city, where learning and healing could carry on undisturbed.

Having secured the land, Dr. Mackenzie set about obtaining the funds to construct the new campus on the hill. University officials engaged in a concerted lobbying effort, enjoining state and city officials to support the project. In 1915, the Oregon state legislature approved an appropriation of $50,000 for construction of a new medical school building, with an additional $60,000 for maintenance, with the provision that a remaining $25,000 needed to be raised elsewhere. The City of Portland contributed the remaining sum. The cornerstone of the first campus building, the Medical Science Building, was laid on May 1, 1918. 

A Brand New Medical School

Temporary organizational chart, 1921-22. University of Oregon Medical School Records [2008-017].

 Construction of the Medical Science Building, the first campus building on Marquam Hill, finished in 1919. The first classes were held in the new building in fall 1919. The incoming class had fifty students, taught by a faculty of ten. Even in the new location, the facilities were immediately overtaxed. Dr. Mackenzie quickly went to work publicizing the need for further development funds from state and local government in support of expanding the campus.

In an October 19, 1919 Oregonian article, Mackenzie assured the public, “Just as soon as we can obtain the proper campus facilities, we will experience a movement of philanthropy which will be bound to build up a great medical center.” The same Oregonian article noted, “The location of the university has been declared ideal by visiting architects and physicians and hospitals there would have the advantage of unmatched scenic beauty, sunlight, fresh air and restful quiet, it is declared.”

In 1921, the state legislature approved $113,269.50 in funds for an addition to the original three-story Medical Science Building, to be called Mackenzie Hall, on the condition that like funds be secured from other sources. The school secured these funds when the Rockefeller Foundation donated $163,269.50 for building construction and equipment, through the efforts of its general education fund secretary Abraham Flexner. Mackenzie Hall was dedicated on January 13, 1923.

Forging Campus Connections

Veteran’s Hospital architectural rendering, c. 1920s. Historical Image Collection.

Multnomah County Hospital

In 1917, Multnomah County appropriated $100,000 for a new hospital in the annual budget. The county hospital facility at the time, located and Second and Hooker streets in South Portland, was overcrowded and in need of many repairs. The regents of the University of Oregon offered a free site for the facility, making the case that the location offered fresh air, plenty of room for treating isolation cases, and proximity to the soon-to-be-constructed laboratories of the new medical school. At the time, some raised concerns that the proposed location would prove too distant for poor patients, who could not afford car or bus fare. In addition, Dr. Mackenzie had to assuage fears that, because the new UOMS campus was touted as a research center, the poor would be subjected to “experimentation” at the hands of the medical school. Led by county commissioner Rufus C. Holman, the county forged ahead with plans for the hospital amidst public concerns, including questions over the construction and maintenance budget. 

Multnomah County commissioners held an open house for the public to inspect the new hospital on November 26, 1922. Reports at the time noted that the hospital resembled a giant old castle overlooking the city, appearing through the mist or gleaming in the sunshine, depending on the weather. The hospital initially had room for 250 patients, and was designed in such a way that future wings could be added to accommodate growing demand.  

Doernbecher Memorial Children’s Hospital

When Frank S. Doernbecher passed away, his will provided $200,000 for the benefit of the children of the state in any manner deemed acceptable by his executors, his adult children, Ada Doernbecher Morse and Edward M. Doernbecher. The Doernbecher family decided that a hospital for children would be the best allocation of the funds.

As several local news editorials noted, hospitals at the time were adapted to treating adults. Most lacked play rooms and school rooms, which were needed in case of a child’s long term stay in the hospital. In addition, a dedicated children’s hospital would be better able to cultivate a more cheerful and bright atmosphere than the standard hospital setting.

The hospital’s cornerstone was laid in May 1925. Doernbecher Memorial Hospital for Children officially opened on July 30, 1926. At the time of its opening, Doernbecher had 80 beds, including 12 for patients. Children of Oregon-residing families who were unable to pay were welcomed there at no cost. Children whose families were able to pay all or part of their hospital expenses were also accepted. These families’ payments helped to defray the expenses of providing free care to those in need. Along with patient rooms, the six-story building included administrative offices, kitchens and dining rooms, four surgeries, a family room, and an outpatient clinic, overseen by the Portland Junior League.

Veteran’s Hospital

In 1926, the family of prominent Portland newspaper publisher Sam Jackson deeded 25 acres of land on Marquam Hill to the Veterans Bureau for the construction of a veteran’s hospital. Construction began in 1927, and the first thirteen buildings were activated in 1928 and dedicated in 1929. and the hospital was formally dedicated in 1929. The only remaining building from the original VA campus is Building #16, which was constructed in 1932. The cornerstone of Building #1, constructed in 1928, remains on display outside the PVAMC auditorium in the main hospital building. 

Life on the Hill

“Around the medical school,” Old Oregon vol. VI, no. 8 (May 1924). Ada Doernbecher Morse Papers [2013-029]

 The relocation of the medical school from the bustling Northwest district to a wooded campus changed the dynamics of university life. Rather than attend classes in the middle of a bustling urban neighborhood, students enjoyed a more bucolic and secluded university environment. On pleasant days, students and faculty might be found playing a game of baseball or horseshoes on campus.

After the construction of the Medical Science Building, a miniature building boom commenced in the vicinity. Several national medical fraternities requested permission to construct homes on Marquam Hill, offering members more convenient living arrangements on Marquam Hill. The university did not provide student housing for medical students, but rather suggested students take up residence at one of the nearby boarding houses in downtown Portland, so daily travel to and from campus was still the norm.

The new campus required more staff to keep up the facilities, equipment, and landscape. Soon the staff grew to include mechanics, gardeners, and specialized technicians. To help defray costs, the medical school charged a “breakage deposit” to every student for general breakage of university equipment. 

Text and selections by Meg Langford, Public Services Coordinator