History | VA Eastern Colorado Health Care

History | VA Eastern Colorado Health Care

Explore the rich heritage of the VA Eastern Colorado Healthcare System.

Fitzsimons Army Medical Center, Aurora, Colorado

Fitzsimons Army Medical Center (FAMC) grew from Army Hospital No. 21 founded during World War I to provide care for the large numbers of casualties suffering from chemical weapons and tuberculosis returning from Europe. The successes enjoyed by Colorado’s facilities for treating respiratory problems caused the Army to give strong consideration to calls from Denverites to locate a new hospital in the city. Their lobbying proved successful in 1917 and construction began later that year. During the fall of 1918 the Army dedicated the new facility in Denver’s eastern suburb of Aurora. The hospital was renamed Fitzsimons General Hospital during June of 1920 in honor of Lt. William T. Fitzsimons, the first American medical officer killed in World War I.  The FAMC closed in 1999 and the grounds were redeveloped for civilian use at the Anschutz Medical Campus and the Fitzsimons Life Science District, including the Veterans Hospital complex.

Fitzsimons General Hospital – swimming pool

(Fitzsimons General Hospital, Building 614) 
(Fitzsimons General Hospital, Building 423)

The Swimming Pool, erected in 1945, is associated with the expansion of facilities at Fitzsimons General Hospital during World War II. The building is associated with the hospital’s mission, having been originally used for patient therapy. The building represents war era construction of permanent buildings at the post through its blond brick walls, gabled roof, and large multilight windows.  

Library of Congress – Fitzsimons General Hospital swimming pool

Fitzsimons General Hospital – neuropsychiatric ward

(Fitzsimons Army Medical Center. Building 608) 
(Fitzsimons General Hospital, Ward 411)

The Neuropsychiatric Ward (Building No. 608) was constructed ca. 1942, as Fitzsimons Army Hospital expanded to fulfil its World War II mission. Soon after its completion, the building housed a neuropsychiatric ward to accommodate Fitzsimons’ diversification away from tuberculosis care and toward more generalized care. In 1962, the Army used building for administrative purposed. The building experienced a number of renovations to accommodate subsequent changes in its use, but continued to support the mission of the hospital.

Library of Congress – Fitzsimons General Hospital neuropsychiatric ward

Denver Veterans Administration Medical Center

The Denver Veterans Administration (VA) Medical Center (DVAMC) was constructed between 1948 and 1951. The facility consisted of a large hospital building (Building 1) and approximately fifteen support buildings and structures. The DVAMC, which changed over time to meet evolving medical care requirements and technologies, was the primary VA facility in Colorado for over fifty years.

Two major policies shaped postwar VA hospital construction. New VA hospitals were constructed in urban areas and affiliated with medical schools. This was a significant change from the decades long policy that emphasized the construction of hospitals in rural areas and independence from other healthcare facilities. Postwar VA hospitals were also constructed based on standard designs developed by VA architects. The DVAMC met all these conditions.

The VA built the DVAMC in the well-established Hale neighborhood, within the city’s urban core and adjacent to Colorado Boulevard, a state highway. Construction of the hospital completed the infill of the neighborhood and allowed the facility to serve the city’s veteran population, which had grown exponentially after the war. Moreover, the medical center was located between two existing medical complexes. The University of Colorado Hospital and Medical School bordered the DVAMC to the west. The association with the medical school was a vitally important to the Veterans Administration’s postwar vision in which the agency worked cooperatively with medical schools. Another hospital, the Rose Medical Center, was east of the DVAMC. The three medical institutions created a large area that was dedicated to cooperative medical care and instruction. The relationship between the Denver hospitals continued into the 2000s when the University of Colorado and VA began transferring their operations east to new facilities on the former site of the Fitzsimons Army Medical Center in Aurora Colorado where they have continued their collaborative relationship. The Rose Medical Center remains in its original location.

Building 1

The VA hospital (Building 1), which was constructed in 1951, was the most prominent building on the DVAMC campus. It defined the southern half of the Denver VA Medical Center campus. The irregular shaped building was primarily clad in red brick with white sandstone accents and varied in heights between three and eleven-stories tall. The hospital, which featured International Style design elements, was one of the first facilities designed by the agency’s own architecture and engineering staff using standardized plans.

Building 1, South Elevation, Mid-1960s. This portion of the building was completely obscured by additions in the 1980s.

Left: Original Plan, DVAMC Building 1, South and North Elevations, 1948, (REV. 1954). Right: Original Plan, DVAMC Building 1, West and East Elevations, 1948, (REV. 1954).

Building 1, East Elevation – Circa mid-1960s.

The VA confronted near constant challenge throughout the decades that the hospital was in operation. The facility served an increasing number of patients, especially after the United States entered the Vietnam War, and needed to evolve as the medical needs of patients changed. In order to meet these challenges, the hospital was significantly modified and modernized throughout its history with major additions in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s.

East Elevation of Building 1 showing original building elements – Photo taken 2020.

Building 4

Constructed in 1948, Building 4 was initially the facility’s nurse’s quarters but was converted into medical and administrative space by the 1980s. The building, located at the northeast corner of the hospital campus, was designed in a simple modern commercial style. Clad in red brick, the building has simple ornamentation, white sandstone sills and door surrounds, and remains relatively unchanged.

Left: Building 4 – Circa mid-1960s. Right: West Elevation, Building 4 – Photo taken 2020.

Building 6

Constructed in 1948 as a garage, Building 6, was part of a complex of maintenance and physical plant buildings. Fitting its historic use, the one-story building was rectangular and utilitarian in design. Similar to other buildings on the site, it is clad in red brick, with white sandstone accents, as seen in the belt course and windowsills. It retains the original steel casement windows.

Left: Building 6 – Circa mid-1960s. Right: West Elevation, Building 6 – Photo taken 2020.

Building 8

Building 8 served as the boiler plant for the medical campus, and is located in the same maintenance complex as Building 6. Following the same design philosophy of the larger campus, it is also red brick clad with white sandstone accents. Building 8 also retains its character defining steel awning windows. The two-story L-shaped building also includes a 1966 one-story addition.

Left: Building 8 – Circa mid-1960s. Right: East Elevation, Building 8 – Photo taken 2020.

It became clear by the early 2000s that the DVAMC could no longer provide the most effective care to patients. The VA began looking for a new site and ultimately returned to its roots, the former site of the Fitzsimons Army Medical Center in Aurora, Colorado. A new hospital, the Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center opened in 2019. Most VA operations are based out of the new campus. The DVAMC provides Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) outpatient care in a single building on the Claremont campus. The hospital has been sold to a private investor.

Learn more about the history of VA