Save a Building, Save a Life: Preserving Solandt Memorial Hospital
With the upcoming demolition of Northwestern University’s Prentice Hospital, preservation of historic medical facilities is a topic of growing interest. In Colorado, that means Routt County’s Solandt Memorial Hospital. This 1923 building has a dynamic history—it’s repeatedly faced threats of closure over its 90-year life—but its story’s triumphant end is a testament to what preservation can do for a community.
After the tragic 1916 death of Dr. John Solandt, citizens of Hayden, Colorado, were without a local physician and set out to honor him through a new hospital. Financing the project was possible only through the efforts of community members, who worked tirelessly for years to raise funds for the facility, even volunteering time to construct it themselves on its hilltop site. What resulted was the largest and most advanced hospital between Denver and Salt Lake City. Designed by prominent architect Wilbur A. Hitchcock of Laramie, Wyoming, Solandt Hospital was an exemplary building both architecturally and technologically, boasting a modern, block-plan interior that emphasized functionality and efficiency over ornamentation. With sixteen beds, x-ray room, operating room, and even living quarters for select employees, the hospital was state-of-the-art at its inception.
For forty years it served the town and surrounding area, and every time funding was threatened, Hayden’s citizens came to its rescue, hosting frequent fundraisers and even petitioning the municipality to designate the hospital as its own district, opening it to public funding through tax dollars. But in 1967, with no resident doctor and no resources to hire one, the hospital closed permanently, again devastating Hayden.
In 1970, determined to reopen the building, the hospital board began leasing space to local medical and dental practitioners, creating a management plan that subsists today. But even Hayden’s most tenacious efforts to keep the property extant could not protect the 1920s building from age-induced deterioration.
As such, the board applied for State Historical Fund (SHF) grants to preserve the building. One of the most crucial prerequisites for SHF grants is demonstrable public benefit and community support, and it’s no surprise that Solandt Hospital exhibited truly remarkable—even quantifiable—support from its community. In 2009, to gauge the facility’s significance, the board conducted a patient survey, which showed overwhelming support for the property’s preservation, with 73% of patients responding that they would face medical hardship without it.
Since 2007, Solandt Hospital has received three SHF grants—for structural assessment, exterior rehabilitation, and interior restoration and rehabilitation. A 2010 grant included masonry and wood rehabilitation, installation of an ADA-compliant door, and stabilization of the northwest wall to ensure the building’s long-term reliability. A 2012 grant refinished the original wood floors, restored transom windows, and redesigned the former x-ray room into a Family Conference Room to render the interior suitable for continued medical practice.
In 2011, Solandt Hospital was listed in the National Register of Historic Places for its significance as the only building of its design in the region that remains standing, retains its historic integrity, and is still used in a medical capacity. Today the historic building houses physicians’ offices, a reception area, and eight examination rooms used by a dozen local medical specialists. The "Hospital on the Hill" annually serves 5,233 clients from Routt, Moffat, and Rio Blanco counties and even parts of southern Wyoming.
The story of Solandt Hospital serves as a model of what preservation can bring to a community. Even with limited resources, motivated citizens can foster enough support to not only save a building, but, in Solandt’s case, quite literally save its own people.