6 MONTEREY COUNTY WEEKLY MARCH 7-13, 2024 www.montereycountyweekly.com 831 Salinas native Walter Wagner is on a mission to save the place he was born. That place is the original location of the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula, once a clinic and research facility built in 1930, just outside of Carmel city limits. The building has been sitting empty behind a cyclone fence for approximately 10 years now. Before that, it served as a convalescent hospital for 40 years, after CHOMP moved in 1962 to its gleaming new facility up the hill in Monterey. Everytime Wagner drove by the empty Spanish-style building off of Highway 1 on Valley Way, he wondered why nothing was being done to revitalize it. Last fall, his curiosity reached its limit. He found out who the property owner was and contacted the man living in Los Angeles. The owner told Wagner he had tried to redevelop the site, to no avail. Wagner, who has a varied background in construction, physics, teaching and medical insurance, said he would gladly act on behalf of the owner to find a new life for the facility. There’s a sentimental reason for his quest. Wagner and all four of his siblings were born inside the hospital, along with about 10,000 other babies he believes were born there from the early 1930s to 1962. “It was considered to be the better hospital,” Wagner says. The historic property has a fascinating backstory. It was built with money from Grace Deere Velie Harris, granddaughter of John Deere, founder of the famous tractor company. Harris was suffering from diabetes, heart trouble and “acute boredom,” according to her doctor, Rudolph A. Kocher, in a speech he gave in Carmel in 1962, as reported in newspapers at the time. Harris had built a home in Carmel Highlands and planted a “showplace garden,” but soon lost interest. She was worth several million dollars and had no heirs. Kocher suggested Harris donate some of her money to create a clinic in Carmel. She pledged $75,000 and work began on the Grace Deere Velie Metabolic Clinic. Sadly, Harris died in 1929 at the age of 57, bringing construction to a halt as her will was sorted out. Her generous pledge and a subsequent bequest to the clinic were whittled down by relatives who contested the will. Kocher had to raise money to open the clinic in 1930. Four years later the clinic was on the brink of closing, until Kocher organized area doctors to form a community hospital, and thus the forerunner of today’s Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula was born. In his remarks in 1962, Kocher mentioned that Harris had “buried two husbands,” but that wasn’t true. The real story was that Harris divorced her first husband, Stuart Harper, amid a scandal that made headlines in 1911. She had taken up with a chauffeur, Sidney Harris, from England, a married man. Harris’ first wife sued the soonto-be new Mrs. Harris for $150,000 for “alienation.” The suit was quietly settled for around $6,600. “Mrs. Harris obtained a divorce from [Harper] leaving his heart free to wander where it willed,” The Cambridge Journal reported on July 22, 1911. “Then came the tragedy of the story. Stuart Harper, broken in body and spirit, went to Denver and died in a sanitorium...And now comes fate and writes the final chapter.” Wagner is determined that the final chapter hasn’t been written yet for the clinic-turned-hospital property. He formed the Old CHOMP Restoration Association, LLC in October, and began contacting anyone he could think of who might be interested in restoring the old building and putting it back into service. He’s reached out to medical systems, including Montage Health, parent to CHOMP, to gauge interest. “It’s important to save it because it’s been an iconic building for many people in the area for quite awhile,” Wagner says. “Generally speaking, I believe in preserving older buildings to preserve our history. I focused on this one because it’s part of my history.” For information about the Old CHOMP Restoration Association, contact Wagner at ocra2023@hotmail.com. Hospital Rebirth A Salinas man is determined to save the Peninsula’s original community hospital in Carmel. By Pam Marino Walter Wagner outside of the Carmel stone gates of the old CHOMP hospital, which was built 94 years ago. He says the building is gutted down to the original steel-reinforced concrete walls and could be repurposed for other uses. “It’s part of my history.” TALES FROM THE AREA CODE DANIEL DREIFUSS Presented By montereychamber.com In CelebrationOf: 2023 Citizen of the Year Mike Marotta Jr. Marotta Properties 2023 Ruth Vreeland Memorial Public Official of the Year Mary L. Adams Monterey County Supervisor, District 5 2023 Robert C. Littlefield Award for Lifetime Achievement Clarissa Rowe Monterey County Bank 2023 Community Impact Award Ron Johnson Boys & Girls Clubs of Monterey County Business of the Year Award To Be Announced During the Event GET TICKETS!