Practicing Medicine in Watts for 63 Years
(Continued from Home Page)
Fred got out of the College of Osteopathic Physicians & Surgeons medical school first in 1941. The school was later incorporated into the University of California Irvine Medical School. The turmoil of World War II created an anxious nation. People gathered by their polished wood-finished tube radios to hear the latest developments and then relieved their stress by tuning in to the Andrew Sisters singing "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy", Duke Ellington playing "Take the A Train", and other current favorites.
STARTING OUT IN THE LIVING ROOM
Meanwhile, Fred started his medical practice in the living room of his parents' house in Watts, at 1875 Century Boulevard (100th Street and Bandera). Watts was a small neighborhood, so word got out fast that the oldest Horowitz' son had hung out his shingle. People knocked on the Horowitz' door looking for the doctor at various hours. His parents soon encouraged their oldest son to move his fledgling living room medical practice into a small second house on their one-acre property. The tenant left and Fred moved in, with what little medical equipment he had.
When Fred first started out, he "literally worked out of his black bag." He would empty out his few medical instruments on to a table, before the first patient arrived. He did not want them to know he had only one blood pressure measuring instrument and just a few other basic examination devices. He started making house calls for $2. His transportation was the local Watts trolley. Office visits were $1. Often, patients paid with a chicken or fruits and vegetables fresh from their gardens.
Evenings were spent cleaning and sterilizing syringes and needles. The needles were hand-sharpened. When he looked around for a sterilizer, he "borrowed" his mother's pressure cooker. "It worked great. Of course, she did not want to use it, after that," remembered Bill.
MOVING THE TUB OUT
Bill and Bob were "helping" Fred out, while they were in medical school. They joined their older brother in a few years. Word spread around Watts that there were now three young brothers practicing medicine in a little house on 100th Street (Century Boulevard). An increasing number of patients found their way to their door.
The tub was moved from the bathroom, to make room for storage space. "The living room served as the exam room. The kitchen was the laboratory and the service porch was the waiting room for patients," remembered the brothers.
"That porch was just wide enough so people could sit down without bumping their knees," remembered Bill.
"It was not exactly a waiting room with magazines, but it worked. There were a couple of fig trees and an orange tree, so patients often had free fresh fruit to pick and enjoy while waiting," added Bob.
When the brothers first started their joint practice, this former expanse of farmland had become a gathering place for refugees from an assortment of countries. Families arrived with not much more than a suitcase or two from England, Ireland, Scotland, Germany, Italy, France, and Mexico. Many of the Mexican patients already had roots in California, both in the large farming community and also working for the Pacific Electric Railway's "Red Car" line. This line stretched from Los Angeles to Long Beach
The 103rd Street train station came about in 1904 when Charles H. Watts' widow donated 10 acres of his 220 acres of alfalfa farming and livestock grazing land for the station, on the condition his name would be used. It served for more than 50 years as a major railway depot for the Pacific Electric's "Red Car" service between Los Angeles and Long Beach.
"103rd St. to Imperial Boulevard had a large population of Hispanics. Imperial to Rosecrans Boulevard was filled with a Japanese farming communities," Bill and Bob remembered.
THE NEW WATTS
Watts was experiencing a change in demographics in the 1940's. The 1940's "Second Great Migration" saw a large growth in Watts' population and a more racially mixed patient base for the Horowitz doctors. Tens of thousands of migrant blacks, mostly from Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Texas, left segregated Southern states in search of better opportunities in California. Word spread that Watts was a safe, convenient place to live with many work opportunities, as local factories geared up for the war effort.
When dramatic numbers of the Japanese-American population were moved off to Manzanar during World War II, African-Americans started moving into that area.Several large housing projects, including Nickerson Gardens, Jordan Downs, and Imperial Courts, were constructed for the increasing number of new workers. Watts men and women played an important role in producing much needed supplies for the U.S. forces. Many workers who had migrated from the south, found post-war security in jobs with Firestone, Bethlehem Steel, the Pacific Electric Railway, and other local companies.
As the years went by, the trio of physician brothers grew out of their parents' small second house on their property. In 1950 they started building a new one-story medical office building on one corner of their parents' land. It was complete with an operating room, reception room, laboratory, and an area for their two nurses. Their parents sold the little bungalow the brothers had used as an office, with the condition the buyer had to move it off the land.
In the early days, the brothers' house calls could accomplish almost as much as an office visit. It was hands on medicine, rather than today's greater dependence on electronic monitoring equipment. Doctors' offices were where X-rays were taken, as well as in hospitals. Penicillin use was starting to reach the public after successful trials by the military, dramatically increasing the cure rate of a variety of infections.
The young, the elderly and everyone in between showed up with a variety of illnesses and diseases, including tonsillitis, bronchitis, hernias, pneumonia, diabetes, and even two immigrants with leprosy. The three brothers often set broken bones, on the spot.
"We had to do everything," Bob commented, "We had no choice. We had no help. There was no 911. I remember an anxious couple who ran in with their crying little boy bleeding from his foot. He had gashed it in the wheel spokes of a toy wagon, I just grabbed some novacaine and stitched up his torn Achilles tendon. He was fine."
Simple surgical procedures were done in the brothers' office. When a new hospital opened nearby, parents still preferred to have their children's tonsillectomies done in the familiar, trusted environs of the brothers' office. Fred did most of the general surgery; Bill assisted, and Bob handled anesthesia for nearly all the cases.
Hands on medicine, intuition and experience were necessities for proper care and treatment, in an age before CAT scans and ultrasounds. Bill remembered a patient with an intrauterine abdominal pregnancy. The baby was growing in the abdominal cavity. Fortunately, the baby went to term and a caesarian section produced a healthy baby girl.
"That baby girl grew up to become a registered nurse," Bill remembered.
"When we had a case that had to go to hospital we sent the case to Los Angeles County Hospital, until a local hospital was built," Bill added.
Telephones were few and far between in Watts, so there was no "By Appointment Only" sign on the front door.
Bill explained, "We had the only phone on our block. It served as an emergency line." People would borrow the use of one of the few telephones in Watts when there was a serious problem. The rotary dial telephone was a star. Your choice of colors was black. When Fred began his practice, he had one telephone for both home and office.
When he was in transit to a house call, he would have a family member stay by the one phone to take messages. In an emergency, the patient would be given the phone number where Dr. Fred was or was on his way to.
Each brother always would give their answering service the telephone number of their next location. When any or all of the brothers took in a rare movie, each would give his name and seat location to the theater usher, in case of an emergency phone call.
When modern technology debuted the first pagers, Fred still preferred his telephone answering service. If he were going to make ten house calls, he called his service from one patient's home to give out the telephone number of his next patient. He also seemed to have an uncanny instinct that a patient was trying to reach him – before he even got paged.
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"In those days, there still were large stretches of open farmland," Bill remembered. "Around Alameda and 107th street, a Chinese family grew acres of asparagus. I can picture the long rows that were harvested and shipped all over the country. Round, red berries were like a carpet over the plants, at the end of the season. The vegetables would go to seed at the end of the season. Muslin and cheese cloth were placed between the long rows. Children and women walked along the rows and hit branches so red berries would fall on cloth. The berries were sold as a condiment ingredient."
Bob recalled a lot of fun family times growing up in Watts. "When we were little kids, our neighbor was Frank Shaw, who became mayor of Los Angeles. My parents and he were close friends. Kenneth Hahn also was over a lot."
Until 1926, Watts was a township, and not part of Los Angeles. Watts had its own constable, who was a convicted felon who could not carry a gun. There also was a volunteer fire department, consisting of a horse-drawn tanker wagon with a hand pump. Unfortunately, the town could not afford a horse to pull the tanker wagon, so volunteers had to pull the water laden tanker to each fire site.
"My mother would say, 'The fire brigade volunteers were very successful. They never lost a lot,'" Bill recalled. "The houses burned down, but the lots were still there."
It took a relocation across the country, around 1908, for the brothers' father Harry to meet his future wife, Sallie. Harry came to L.A. permanently to accept a job offer at the Broadway Department store. He already knew the city well from his many trips from New York to sell clothing goods out west.
Harry took note that small manufacturing businesses some distance from L.A. had to take horse-drawn wagons all the way south to Compton for needed supplies. A Watts hardware and soft goods store would be much closer and convenient. He started planning.
It all came together in 1910 – Harry started a new business and got married. He opened up a combined hardware store and dry goods store in Watts, thanks to a loan from a trusting supplier. The store sold horse collars to women's shoes to men's suits to heavy-duty rope and pulleys. Harry's slogan on his yard sticks said it all, "We have everything but the eats".
As the years went by, each of his sons grew up around the store, sweeping the floors, dusting off the goods, and studying.
Fred, Bob, and Bill witnessed Watts grow from a township to part of Los Angeles. They practiced medicine in Watts through World War II, the Korean war, and the Vietnam conflict. The brothers were treating patients in Watts when DNA was discovered, the State of Israel was born, birth control was invented, the Watts Tower was completed, a man landed on the moon, the first heart was transplanted, abortion was legalized, and the first African-American was appointed as a Supreme Court Justice.
Through all the decades of change, the brothers' practice of medicine remained the same – treating, healing, and giving comfort to multiple generations of the injured, the sick, and the infirm who made their way to their door for over 60 years.
"What a beautiful story about the Doctors Horowitz. Wish I could see those times again. I know Dr Bill; he and his wife are always friendly and accommodating when I ring their door bell to talk about things political and ask to post a campaign sign on their lawn. I always thought 'he's such a great guy' – I just didn't know how great. Thank you Doctors Horowitz!
Thank you Dan, for sharing their story with us."
Thank you Dan, for sharing their story with us."