Tucson – Tuberculosis

In the 1920s and 1930s the dry climate of Tucson attracted people suffering from the disease of tuberculosis. Thousands of tuberculosis sufferers (tuberculars) moved to Tucson around the time of World War I.

The poor tuberculars lived in a tent city on several acres of desert north of the University of Arizona. These people were disparagingly known as “lungers.” The area that these tuberculars lived in was called Tent City and Lunger (Lung) hill. This area was located in what is now the Feldman neighborhood, bordered on the north by East Lee Street, the south by East Speedway, the east by North Park Avenue and the west by North Stone Avenue.

Because there was such a flood of tuberculosis sufferers, sanitariums were built in Tucson to help them. There are surviving sanitariums that are currently used for other purposes: St. Luke's in the Desert, Whitwell, Desert Sanatorium and the Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

St. Luke's in the desert began in 1917. A small sanitarium was run by the Episcopal Church at 615 E. Adams Street. St. Luke's in the desert was used as a tuberculosis sanitarium until 1968. This sanitarium is located in the Feldman neighborhood. After 1968, St. Luke’s continued to treat respiratory diseases until it closed in 1972. In 1980, St. Luke’s was reopened as an assisted-living facility for women. In 2000, St. Luke’s became a facility for men and women. St. Luke's in the Desert's current address is 721 East Adams.

Another sanitarium in the Feldman neighborhood was the Whitwell sanatorium at 721 East Adams. First the Whitwell hospital existed from 1906-1911, and then from 1912-1925 it was a tuberculosis sanitarium. The Whitwell was then the Southern Methodist hospital from 1927-1938. Currently the Whitwell is the Castle apartments. You can find a history of the building online at: http://www.thecastleproperties.com/history.php?pg=1.

The Desert Sanatorium on Grant Road opened on November 15, 1926. This sanitarium was the first in the United States to try to cure tuberculosis by direct solar radiation (sunlight.) The Desert Sanatorium was a private sanitarium and attracted the wealthy. On March 2, 1944 the Desert Sanatorium was deeded to Tucson Medical Center. Tucson Medical Center is a hospital located on the northwest corner of Grant and Craycroft.

There were a lot of tubercular veterans after World War I, so in 1928 the Veterans Affairs Medical Center was built. The Veterans Affairs Medical Center is still used as a hospital. The address for this the Veterans Affairs Medical Center is 3601 South 6th Avenue.

NOTE: This is not a full list of tuberculosis sanitariums that existed in Tucson.


Feldman's Edition, Newsletter of the Feldman's Neighborhood Association. December 2006. Page 1.
“New sidewalks make walking a pleasure.” Arizona Daily Star. May 21, 2008. Page D1.
Rogers, W. Lane. “Sanitarium of the Southwest Seeking a Cure in the Arizona Sunshine." Desert Leaf. January 1992.
“St. Luke’s: 9 decades of solace for the sick, the aged. Arizona Daily Star. November 16, 2005. Page. B1
“Tuberculosis, arthritis drove many sufferers to Tucson. Arizona Daily Star. May 24, 1997. Page D1.

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