The hospital, founded in 1943 by chiropractic pioneer Dr. Leo Spears, was the largest chiropractic hospital in the world. The hospital has been closed since March 1984.
Just prior to demolition, a series of events occurred that resulted in saving some historical treasures that had been forgotten and left behind at Spears.
In mid-April, Dr. Carl Cleveland III, president of the Cleveland Chiropractic Colleges, received a call from Robert Hudson, MD, chairman of the Department of the History and Philosophy of Medicine at the University of Kansas Medical Center. Dr. Hudson related that his colleague, Charles Kirkpatrick, MD, had informed him of the imminent demolition of Spears and the historical documents and photographs that were still there.
Dr. Kirkpatrick, who heads the division of Allergy and Clinical Immunology at the National Jewish Center for Immunology and Respiratory Medicine in Denver, had responded to an ad for the sale of used hospital equipment. The equipment he examined was at Spears, and he learned that Denver developer Charles Walker had purchased the facility. During his visit, Dr. Kirkpatrick noticed photographs and historical documents dating back to the 1920s.
Dr. Cleveland contacted Dr. Kirkpatrick and Dr. Joe Keating, a member of the Assoc. for the History of Chiropractic (AHC). Dr. Keating put Dr. Cleveland in touch with Dr. William Rehm, founder of the AHC.
Asbestos removal at Spears was scheduled to being April 23rd, and all material from the hospital needed to be removed immediately. By coincidence, Dr. Cleveland was scheduled to attend the annual Congress of the Federation of Chiropractic Licensing Boards in Denver April 21-25.
On April 22, Drs. Cleveland, Rehm, Kirkpatrick, and Winterstein (president of the CCE and National College of Chiropractic) went to Spears.
"What a unique opportunity," said Dr. Winterstein "... to walk into a glorious past and come away with a treasure trove of memories. (We) moved from room to room, from top to bottom and back and forth, like excited youngsters."
The chiropractic "archeological" team unearthed Leo Spears' diploma, photos, textbooks, newspaper clippings, and numerous letters from the chiropractic vanguard of Janse, Drain, Carver, Cleveland Sr. and others.
Dr. Rehm, who interned at Spears in 1955-56, was able to recount the hospital's past with stories of the children treated there. He was also able to show the group the site of the first AHC meeting (Oct. 18, 1990) on the third floor of the D.D. Palmer building.
"The history of Spears was interesting in its own right," said Dr. Rehm. "As I walked through the desolate halls and rooms, I could still see some of the patients there."
"The Spears collection represents a time capsule of an important era in the history of chiropractic," said Dr. Cleveland III, "and it's worth retelling."
Leo Spears began life in Ivan, Florida in 1894. His parents were poor, but by force of personality and vision, he forged a successful career. While still a student at Palmer (1921 graduate), the young Spears spoke of opening a chiropractic hospital.
Dr. Spears opened his first office in downtown Denver on Independence Day 1921. While his practice was successful, he was pressured by the MD tenants to vacate his office to another building.
As early as 1924, Dr. Spears was telling radio audiences about his "painless system," and would later author the textbook Spears Painless System of Chiropractic (1950).
In 1933, the forerunner to the Spears Hospital was incorporated as the Spears Free Clinic and Hospital for Poor Children. In its peak years, the clinic served 200-300 patients each day. Prior to WW II, Dr. Spears extended the clinic's services to the remote communities with his Spears Traveling Clinic, a converted housetrailer.
Dr. Spears began the monumental task of building a chiropractic hospital in 1940. He purchased a 15-acre tract of ranch land east of Denver in a tax sale. The first unit, a 236-bed facility dedicated to Dr. Willard Carver, was opened May 1, 1943. A second, larger building with a 364-bed capacity was opened in 1949 and dedicated to D.D. Palmer.
After failing to receive a state license to operate the hospital, Dr. Spears brought suit against the Denver Medical Society and the Colorado State Board of Health for conspiracy. A seven-year battle ensued, ending on July 1, 1950 when the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that chiropractic "may not be arbitrarily limited or discriminated against, and its advocates may lawfully erect and operate buildings and facilities for the treatment, according to its tenets, of patients seeking its aid..."
Spears Chiropractic Hospital was issued a license retroactive to the date of application: May 1, 1943.
The legal battles never ended: At one time, four cases were simultaneously in litigation. One of the most publicized was an $11 million suit against The Denver Post, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) of Denver, and more than 80 officers of the BBB. Although that suit was eventually dismissed, Dr. Spears filed an appeal shortly before his death in 1956.
Dr. Spears was a true chiropractic pioneer and crusader, fighting the medical and local power establishment for the right to practice chiropractic.
After Leo Spears' death, his nephews, Drs. Dan and Howard Spears, took over the direction of the hospital. It's been estimated that the Spears Chiropractic Hospital contributed in excess of $5 million in free services over the years.
The historical materials retrieved by Drs. Cleveland III, Kirkpatrick, Rehm, and Winterstein, are being held at Cleveland Chiropractic College of Kansas City, and National College of Chiropractic.
Editor's note: Thanks go to Dr. Cleveland III, and Alan Morgan, director of publications at CCCKC, for providing the story and photos.