A Community
History

1923
2022

Image: National Museum of Health and Medicine, AFIP, WRAMC History Collection.

OVERVIEW

From its opening in 1909 to its closing in 2011, the world-class Walter Reed Army Medical Center played an outsized role in the lives of thousands of people. It served as a place to live, heal, and grieve; to work, discover and innovate; to celebrate a milestone – or several of those functions together. For those who lived nearby, it was a beacon — a reminder that they were home.

When Walter Reed closed for good in 2011, it became a place of infinite memory.

Timeline

  • Walter Reed General Hospital

    Walter Reed General Hospital opened May 1, 1909, on 43 undeveloped acres in the northern part of the District of Columbia. Just to the east lay the 19th century railroad suburb of Takoma, or Takoma Park on the Maryland side. With just a few dozen beds, the hospital stood almost alone, its only neighbors a small number of sergeants’ quarters.

    It honored Major Walter Reed (1851-1902), a pre-eminent bacteriologist and surgeon* who, as head of the U.S. Army Yellow Fever Board in Cuba in 1900-1901, had discovered that the common mosquito, Aedes aegypti, transmitted the yellow fever virus — not improper sanitation.

    *“Dead But Fame Lives,” The Washington Post, Nov. 24, 1902.
    Image: Oldest known photo of Building 1 – 1909 National Museum of Health and Medicine, AFIP
    Image: Monument to Walter Reed. National Museum of Health and Medicine, AFIP, WRAMC

  • Facing influenza

    By the beginning of 1918, Walter Reed had 950 beds, along with 25 more acres of land, as it geared up to become “one of the greatest medical institutions in the world,” as described by The Washington Post.* By the end of the year it had added another 2,500 beds, some of them in temporary buildings. Walter Reed received nearly 14,000 admissions in 1918 alone. Of these, about 1,800 stemmed from an influenza pandemic that reached its height in the fall and winter of 1918-1919.

    Image: WR Flu Ward 1910sLibrary of Congress
    1918 map of hospital grounds. National Museum of Health and Medicine, AFIP, WRAMC History Collection

    *“Ducks Hospital Ships,” The Washington Post, 1/2/1918.

  • A special spring tradition begins

    The first Easter egg roll is held on the Great Lawn in front of Building 1. The event was revived in 2018 as the Spring Celebration and Egg Roll event, a free community event for the surrounding neighborhoods.

    Image: National Museum of Health and Medicine, AFIP, WRAMC History Collection

  • The start of Easter sunrise service

    The first Easter sunrise service was held, attracting thousands of people each year (more than 8,000 people in 1928). It was held each year for decades except during World War II in 1942-1944.

    Image: First Easter Sunrise Service, 1927. Borden Institute

  • Iconic landmarks installed

    Private funds paid for the Memorial Chapel, which was dedicated in May 1931, and the Hoff Memorial Fountain, in front of Building 1, in 1933.* (The original penguin sculptures would eventually be replaced with plastic replicas.**)

    Image: National Archives and Records Administration
    * A Pictorial History 62-63; “Bids on 11 Buildings for Reed Hospital to Be Asked Soon,” The Washington Post, March 10, 1926; “Memorial Chapel at Walter Reed,” The Washington Post, May 30, 1929; “Hospital Building Bids will Be Asked,” The Washington Post, Apr. 25, 1929.
    ** A Pictorial History, 182.

  • Leaving a lasting impression

    As a military hospital, Walter Reed provided advanced care for active and former service members and their families, on both an inpatient and an outpatient basis. Retired pediatrician Dr. DeMaurice Moses recalled the caring treatment he received as a child in the early 1940s. This was during the segregation era in Washington. While his father served in the Pacific in the U.S. Army during World War II, Dr. Moses lived with his grandmother on Tenth Street in the Shaw neighborhood. He was about 8 years old when she brought him to Walter Reed to be treated for a stammer. It was the first time he’d encountered a White person. “To come here and be treated — because I knew I couldn’t be treated by anyone who was White, who lived elsewhere. So everyone was friendly. It was totally different than the experience I had in D.C. and it wasn’t lost on me that this place was very different.”

    History Project, Dr. Jarvis and Dr. Moses: Full-Length Interview

  • Racial diversity restricted

    As Walter Reed grew, so grew the neighborhood. As was common in the first half of the 20th century, developers kept the neighborhood white through racially restrictive covenants. Inserted into property deeds, these covenants forbade sales or rentals to African Americans and sometimes Jews, Asians, or others. This map shows racially restrictive covenants in the Walter Reed area.

  • Inauguration of new facilities

    On May 26, 1955, President Dwight D. Eisenhower dedicated the new Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (AFIP) building. It was the Cold War, and the building reflected that. The AFIP was a world-renowned second opinion pathology lab that supported military hospitals and Walter Reed as a premier teaching hospital – but also served civilians with unique cases.

    Image: AFIP photo by Ron Neafie, Used with Permission.
    Armed Forces Institute of Pathology.National Museum of Health and Medicine, AFIP, WRAMC History Collection
    Helicopter landing in front of the AFIP 1950s. National Archives and Records Administration

  • Growing and flourishing as a neighborhood

    Walter Reed Army Medical Center hummed like a village. Besides the medical and research facilities, the campus held a fire station, post office, shopping, sports facilities, eating and entertainment establishments, short- and long-term housing, and much else, although no K-12 schools. Special events on the campus drew in community members, like the popular Easter Sunrise Service, which drew 40,000 people at its largest in 1956.

    Image: Easter Sunrise Service, 1956. WRAMC History Office, PAO Historical Collection

  • Walter Wonderful

    In 1961, Dr. Moses was serving as a medical officer in the U.S. Army assigned to Wurzburg Army Hospital in Germany. When children were injured or ill, the doctors had to consider the entire family. “So you had to make the initial decision to actually put into place the evacuation of the family to the military hospital, usually one of two: either Madigan on the West Coast or on the East Coast it was Walter Reed.” All the Army doctors called it Walter Wonderful, Dr. Moses recalled.

    History Project, Dr. Jarvis & Dr. Moses: Full-Length Interview

  • Cultivating skillsets and careers

    Parasitologist Ronald Neafie joined the AFIP in 1963 after teaching science for two years in a Prince George’s County high school. “It was a unique opportunity. The AFIP probably had the best labs in the country.” In his 46 years at Walter Reed, he developed skills that no one else could match and became a star in his field. He even had a parasite named for him: Pleistophora ronneifiei.

    History Project, Ronald Neafie, Fides Neafie, Chris Kelly: Full-Length Interview

  • Growing up with the campus

    Joey Cabigas and Linda Allen were born in Building 1, then grew up across Georgia Avenue from Walter Reed. Their father was a Filipino scout who survived the Bataan Death March and was rewarded with immigration to the U.S. He worked in the pathology building (AFIP). They spent much of their childhood on the campus, bringing friends and visitors to take photos in front of Building 1; receiving medical care; watching movies; and attending weddings in the chapel. They attended mass in the Memorial Chapel, and “I served as a ring bearer for many weddings in there,” Mr. Cabigas remembered.

    History Project, Linda Allen and Joey Cabigas: Full-Length Interview

    Images: Cabigas Family Collection

  • Making lifelong friendships

    In 1963, Shirley Spory began a 43-year career at Walter Reed. She began in medical records and eventually moved to the psychiatric unit, where she assisted with the automating of the records system. She made lifelong friendships and became friends with the residents, students, and patients. “I just came in and did whatever challenging thing there was for that day. And I loved it.” She was at her desk when the news of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination arrived, as she was on 9/11. “My daughter called me up and she wanted me to go home. I said, ‘I can’t go home. I’m working at the hospital.’

    History Project, Susan McNeill: Full-Length Interview

  • Recognizing racial inequality

    The 1960s were a time of upheaval in the United States and the world, and Washington saw large demonstrations, including the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Justice and, later in the decade, protests against U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. Walter Reed did not escape the turmoil. The racial harmony experienced by some people at the installation was not the reality for many who worked there. Of Walter Reed’s approximately 3,500 civilian employees, 1,700 were African American, 88 percent of them in jobs such as in the laundry or food service.

    Image: Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Directorate of Public Works

  • Organizing for justice


    Akbar Sharrieff started at Walter Reed in 1968, as a urinalysist. Three years later, he helped organize African American employees to protest their working conditions. “Something needed to be done about discrimination at Walter Reed,” he said. “We got the lowest jobs and we had to do the dirtiest work.” A group began meeting secretly at his nearby home and soon coalesced as United Blacks Against Discrimination, or U-BAD.

    uunited blacks against discrimination printed flyer
    Image: Wisconsin Historical Society, GI Press Collection

    The leadership fell to Nell Pendleton, a chemist at WRAIR who recently had been promoted to one of the three full-time counselor positions in the Walter Reed Equal Employment Opportunity Office.

    History Project, Akbar Sharrieff and Luana Kendoli: Full-Length Interview

  • Integrating the neighborhood

    Although the area around Walter Reed remained virtually all White in 1950, by 1960, African Americans had moved to some of the blocks south of Walter Reed, and by 1970 many of those blocks were close to 90 percent Black-occupied. The area north of Walter Reed changed more slowly, thanks largely to the concerted effort of a group called Neighbors Incorporated, founded in 1958 to fight “white flight” and “block busting” by unscrupulous Realtors who sought to scare White owners into selling and moving. The group promoted integrated middle-class neighborhoods in the northern part of Ward 4.

  • Protesting job discrimination

    On May 5, 1972, Major General William H. Moncrief had assumed command just a day earlier when U-BAD held a demonstration over the lack of progress in remedying job discrimination. The 500 protesters, mostly African American, comprised janitors and kitchen workers as well as doctors and military officers, and even some patients.

    Just after DC activist Julius Hobson addressed the crowd, the commander closed the base to the public, shutting out D.C. Delegate Rev. Walter Fauntroy.

    Rev. Fauntroy was allowed in, however, and he and Nell Pendleton met briefly with Gen. Moncrief. But when the commander denied Rev. Fauntroy’s request to meet with Black employees, 200 demonstrators staged a sit-in on the lawn. Four days later, nearly 1,000 workers met with Rev. Fauntroy offering up grievances about working conditions, particularly in food service and the laundry.

  • Food Service Protest

    The next January, 100 to 150 kitchen workers confronted the director of the food service division, Col. Mary Preston, presenting her with a list of 33 demands. Commander Moncrief’s reaction was swift and severe. Nell Pendleton was removed from her EEO position, as was a part-time EEO counselor named Helen Martin. In addition, the Army initiated court martial procedures against three soldiers it claimed had participated in the protest. All five countered that they were merely present to support the workers.

  • Acknowledging the neighborhood’s transition


    Kerri Richardson Redding’s family moved to the Walter Reed neighborhood in 1974, when she was almost 5 years old. “The neighborhood was turning over from primarily a Jewish neighborhood to an African American middle-class neighborhood in the early ‘70s,” she recalled.

    “Growing up in the neighborhood, my brother and I rode our bikes, and all the neighborhood kids — Walter Reed was part of our space.”

    History Project, Kerri Richardson-Redding: Full-Length Interview

  • Inauguration of Abrams Hall

    In 1975, Abrams Hall was dedicated as a primary residence for single enlisted men and women. In 2020, Abrams Hall reopened as the first residential building at The Parks at Walter Reed, where it houses hundreds of seniors and veterans in affordable apartments.

    Image: Abrams Hall photographed around 1985.
    National Museum of Health and Medicine, AFIP, WRAMC History Collection.

  • Massive Expansion in Building 2

    In 1977-1978, after five years of construction, a new, Brutalist-style structure known as Building 2 opened to take the place of the historic hospital, Building 1. Maj. Walter Reed’s granddaughter, Daisy Reed Royce, joined other dignitaries at its dedication on September 26, 1977.

    With 1,200 beds, the huge, new facility gathered patients formerly housed in ten different buildings, some at Forest Glen. It became the largest hospital in the D.C. area and among the largest military hospitals in the country.

    Building 2 was renamed the Heaton Pavilion in 1994. Lt. General Leonard D. Heaton served as commander at WRAMC from 1953 to 1959, and as Army Surgeon General from 1959 to 1969. Building 2 was one of the few buildings on campus demolished to make way for residential, retail, and a new plaza fronting Georgia Avenue; it took nearly two years to demolish the massive structure.

  • Custom care plans


    Paula Howie worked at Walter Reed from 1977 to 2002 in the art therapy program, which included horticulture, recreation therapy, activities, and art therapy. Walter Reed was unusual in the level of resources it devoted to art therapy, and other types of therapy. “When I first started working here, nobody was talking about trauma. That was not something that people were talking about. And by the time I left, everybody was talking about the effects of trauma and what people have been through.” A team of professionals would create custom care plans for each patient. “It was just a fantastic way to work,” she said.

    History Project, Paula Howie and Shirley Spory: Full-Length Interview

  • Representing the Ward 4 community

    Charlene Drew Jarvis, a nearby resident of North Portal Estates, conducted research at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR) during the 1960s, before moving on to NIH and launching her career as a scientist. “And then feeling very strongly that it was necessary to be concerned about the city after Martin Luther King’s death, and that there was no rebuilding going on during that time, I made a decision to leave science and to go into public office,” she said. She was a Ward 4 Councilmember from 1979 to 2000.

    “Walter Reed was certainly a very important part of this community. I was elected from the Ward 4 community, so Walter Reed was a part of my constituency…One of the things that I did when I was on the Council was to try to create more business opportunity along the Georgia Avenue corridor to bring people and money and lights and activity on the Avenue. However, we were at a time when people were leaving Washington and businesses were leaving Washington and we were losing population and we were facing vacancies in housing.”

    History Project, Dr. Jarvis & Dr. Moses: Full-Length Interview

  • Connecting the community

    Starting in the 1980s, much of Walter Reed’s connection to the community came thanks to Frank Jones III, who ran the clubs and catering on the base and lived in the neighborhood. One important contribution was the installation’s participation in D.C.’s summer youth jobs program. He collaborated with Coolidge High School and Montgomery County volunteer programs to train hundreds of high school students over 27 years. He also attracted locals to hold their milestone events at the Officer’s Club, providing income for the club and an amenity for the neighborhood.
    History Project, Frank Jones III: Full-Length Interview

  • Forging lifelong bonds

    In the 1980s, Susan McNeill, a former member of the Air Force and retired lawyer, visited Walter Reed many times when both her stepmother, her father, and later herself received care there. Her father Robert McNeill, a veteran of World War II, suffered from diabetes that that led to an amputation and lengthy hospital stay. “At the time, it was in the middle of the Iran Desert Storm, and … we were engaging with a lot of [wounded veterans] in the cafeteria, in other places, because they would have wounds that required prosthetics,” as he did, Susan McNeill recalled. “He would go into his prosthetic clinic and also around the hospital, and we would eat at the same table in the cafeteria and talk to them about their experiences. That was a really important thing to just listen to them and understand what they had been through, and the continuity between someone wounded, an amputee, and him having a physical ailment that required his leg to be taken off. Age, race — as I said, it’s a bond that [they] shared and which kind of broke down those barriers.”

    History Project, Susan McNeill: Full-Length Interview

  • Facing hiring discrimination

    Luana Kiandoli arrived at Walter Reed in 1980, and found discriminatory practices still in place. With experience at the State Department and World Bank, she was qualified for a parasitology position – which she was denied. She ended up working in hematology and referred one of her best friends, a Caucasian woman, who got the parasitology job.

    Image:Laboratory personnel at work.
    WRAMC History Office, PAO Historical Collection

  • Infusing programs with diversity

    1980s-1990s: Luana Kendoli helped organize a number of programs around diversity and inclusion and monthly celebrations of various ethnicities. Where everything had previously been Eurocentric, “We had what was called the Walter Reed Village and we had Indian Village, Native American Village, we had African Village, we had Asian Pacific Islander Village”

    Image: Students from the Torah School of Greater Washington commemorate Chanukah at Walter Reed. Photograph by Beau Whittington for the Stripe newspaper, 1998

  • Officer’s Club

    In 1986, Ms. Redding successfully resisted her mother’s wishes to become a debutante. Instead, “I guess my most seminal memory is my Sweet 16 party, which we had at the Officers Club here at Walter Reed. My mom and my dad were both first-generation college graduates and tried to do for my brother and I all of the middle-class things.” Her father was in the reserves, and wanted her to understand what a big deal it was to hold this event at the Officers Club. “There was a balloon arch of pink and gray heart balloons because there was a photo station under there and a professional photographer. And that was a big deal, too. My parents don’t have a lot of pictures of themselves growing up. I’ve never seen a picture of my mother below the age of 14. And so documenting all parts of our life was really important.” Kerri Redding returned to the neighborhood and lives in Manor Park.

    History Project, Kerri Richardson-Redding: Full-Length Video Full-Length Interview

  • DNA identification laboratory

    In the 1990s, AFIP opened a DNA Identification Laboratory, which helped identify war dead. “Probably the most high-profile that we did,” Mr. Chris Kelly said, “was that our lab identified the remains of Air Force Lieutenant Michael Blessing, who was in the Tomb of the Unknowns over at Arlington. He had been killed in Vietnam.“

    On May 14, 1998, the body of the Vietnam War Unknown was disinterred and brought by military escort to the AFIP.

    History Project, Ronald Neafie, Fides Neafie, Chris Kelly: Full-Length Interview

    Source: WRAMC: A Pictorial History
    Image: by Veronica Ferris for the Stripe Newspaper, 1998

  • Cultural connections


    1996: Fides Neafie started as a fellow at the AFIP in 1996 hoping to study leprosy and return to the Philippines. “When I first met Ron, the first thing he says to me is, ‘Do you run?’ And I’ve never run in my life. I’ve never jogged in my life. And I’m like, no, I’m sorry, I don’t. But he encouraged me to go, because it was good for you. It’s healthy for you to go jogging. So we would jog.”

    Their relationship continued to grow.

    couple facing camera in front of flower wallpaper.
    Image: courtesy Ron Neafie

    Ron said: “I really had given up hope of getting married [again], but she’s a pathologist and we seemed to have a lot in common.” For their first date, they went to the Cherry Blossom Festival. “We walked all around and all the way down to Hains Point and back.” They were married in 2001.

    History Project, Ronald Neafie, Fides Neafie, Chris Kelly: Full-Length Interview

  • Campus to merge

    In May 2005, during the George W. Bush administration, the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission recommended that Walter Reed Army Medical Center leave its campus and be merged with the Bethesda Naval Medical Center. The BRAC announcement, as it came to be known, came as a shock, as Walter Reed was approaching its centennial and the country remained in the throes of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

  • Local Redevelopment

    Even though the State Department sought to take over the entire Walter Reed campus, the federal government deeded 12 acres to Children’s National Hospital for a new innovation center, and slated 66 acres for redevelopment, encouraging a mix of housing, retail, residential, and green spaces. Charlene Drew Jarvis remarked: “There is, of course, a revival of our neighborhoods because there are many new people coming into the neighborhood…So the development you see here at Walter Reed came as a result of the federal government’s transfer of this property to the District of Columbia and to this Ward 4 community. And it’s making a difference in this community.”

    Nearly every historic building has remained and will be reused, and dozens of community members joined the Local Redevelopment Authority to provide community input into the development plans.

    Image: Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Directorate of Public Works Archives

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