The president's hospital
When Navy medicine arrived in Bethesda, its home was a farmer's field.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had decided Navy medicine needed more room the hospital and expanding medical schools were outgrowing their 15 acres in Georgetown and after driving into the country, Roosevelt settled on about 235 acres of rolling hills farmed by the Bohrer family in the late 1930s.
"This was his hospital," said Jan Herman, chief historian for the Navy Medical Department. "He designed it, he picked the site it was his, no doubt about it."
Roosevelt even designed the signature tower modeled after Nebraska's state capital that remains the campus' focal point.
A Navy advocate and life-long patient, Roosevelt envisioned more than a hospital for the Navy. He sought a crowned jewel of Naval medicine advancements, as well as a place of healing and peace for those who served the country, Herman said.
The dedication ceremony for the hospital was Aug. 31, 1942, on the 100th birthday of the Navy's Bureau of Medicine, Herman said.
In the center's earliest days, the main tower, two medical center wings, admiral's houses and medical research institute were surrounded by well-tended lawns, flower beds and tall oak and maple trees. Temporary buildings needed for the war peppered the campus.
The campus added medical buildings in the 1960s and again in the 1970s.
By 1980, a modernization of the hospital was complete. The tower, which previously housed patients, was not conducive to rushing patients to and from emergency rooms. The modernization moved administrative offices to the towers and relocated patients to the two wings on either side of the tower.
A fence went up around the entire campus after Sept. 11, because of heightened security concerns.
Navy Med's Base Realignment and Closure merger with Walter Reed Army Medical Center has called for six new or renovated buildings. Three additional Fisher Houses, used by military families being treated on campus, and a research and treatment center for traumatic brain injury have been contributed to the campus by outside organizations.
Herman said he does not think the campus's appearance now, with more buildings and fewer green spaces, fits with Roosevelt's plan for the campus.
"It seems in complete opposition to what Roosevelt intended," he said. "That was not the vision he had for the hospital."
But the mission of the hospital to provide world-class health care to America's heroes and leaders remains the same, Herman said.
It is still the President's hospital.