October 20, 2014
Hidden history in MD Anderson's Main Building
BY David Raffetto
Thousands of people enter our Main Building every day -- some through the front door, some through a skybridge, some through a tunnel.
What many don't realize is that the Main Building isn't just one building. Currently, we're working on the 21st addition to the building, which has been around for nearly 70 years.
As you travel through the building, you probably pass from new to old to even older without noticing. But if you know where to look, MD Anderson's history still is visible. You just have to do some crouching and craning.
A long look back
Our initial location on Holcombe Boulevard opened in 1954 after MD Anderson operated in temporary quarters near downtown Houston for 10 years.
The original Main Building was actually three interconnected buildings: Anderson Central, Anderson East and Anderson West. Each stood six stories.
Then came a building boom. Between 1968 and 1998, we added eight new buildings or expansions, including our first inpatient tower in 1976, the Chapel in 1978 and the Albert B. and Margaret M. Alkek Hospital and the Clinical Research Building in 1998.
Room to grow
By 1998, the complex was looking land-locked. So rather than building out, we built up. In 2010, the bed tower expansion atop Alkek Hospital took our second inpatient tower to 24 floors, with an observation deck that offers wonderful views of the Texas Medical Center and beyond.
Today, The Pavilion is under construction at the Main Building's southwest corner. Expected to open in 2015, it will add space for surgery, sterile processing, post-anesthesia care and interventional radiology. It also will feature a covered drive for patients and visitors.
"It's a challenge to manage a building this complex," says Tim Peglow, associate vice president in Patient Care and Prevention Facilities. "Sections were built using different codes from different decades. Some have been repurposed, and some have limitations from the original infrastructure. But our team problem-solves so patients and employees never need to know about back-of-house challenges."
Signs of the past
While the Main Building actually opened in 1954, the cornerstone is inscribed with 1953, the year it was laid. To see it, though, you have to walk across the street. Mays Clinic houses a historical display of MD Anderson articles on Floor 2, near Elevator P.
The cornerstone and all the original building exterior are made from pink marble pulled from a Georgia quarry. If you look out some of the Main Building's interior-facing windows, you still can see the marble covering large sections of the building. Pieces also have made their way to donor plaques, table tops and even into space, courtesy of an astronaut.
The original hospital sign still stands today. Take Elevator E to Floor 8 and walk east until you reach a corridor of north-facing windows. From there, you'll see the "MD Anderson Hospital | Research and Tumor Institute" sign.
On Floor 2 near The Park, you can see a dedication plaque that lists those involved in the construction of the original complex. Puzzled why it's on Floor 2?
"That spot was once our front door," explains Jim Waters, associate director in Facilities Contract Administration. "A raised drive led visitors to that very spot. With how far it is today from the street, it's hard to imagine."
Waters finds pieces of MD Anderson history everywhere. His favorite find came when we were completing the "super corridor" between the east dock and Alkek Hospital.
"We took down a wall and found an incinerator," Water recalls. "Inside, saved from the flames somehow, was a Houston Post newspaper from 1974."
He still keeps the paper in his desk drawer, tucked away, like so many other reminders of our past. It's just a matter of looking up -- or down -- or behind -- our everyday spaces to find them.
A longer version of this story originally appeared in Messenger, MD Anderson's bimonthly publication for employees.