PDXplained: The Hidden History of Morningside Hospital in East Portland

For more than 50 years, an Oregon hospital held “mentally ill” patients against their will, performed bogus medical procedures, and drew allegations of abuse and neglect.

And it’s probably not the hospital you’re thinking of.

Ken Kesey’s novel “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” immortalized the Oregon State Hospital in Salem — but the history of Morningside Hospital in East Portland has remained overlooked. 

The hospital went by many names over the years — Dr. Coe’s Nervous Sanitorium, Mindease, and Crystal Springs Sanitorium, to name a few — before closing in 1958.

I learned about it for the first time last month, thanks to this PDXplained question from reader Laura Palmer: “Whatever happened to the psychiatric hospital that was on the property that became Mall 205?”

The origin story

The U.S. Department of the Interior started sending “mentally ill” patients from Alaska to Oregon’s Morningside Hospital in 1904, but many of the patients weren’t actually mentally ill. 

According to The Oregonian, the hospital’s “inmates” (as they were called) included prostitutes, prospectors, native Alaskans who couldn’t speak English, and people suspected of being gay. 

Physician Henry Waldo Coe, who founded the hospital, described it glowingly as a place “free from exposure, irritating noises, noxious odors, and public curiosity.”

But other accounts paint a much bleaker picture of life at Morningside, especially after Coe’s son, Wayne, took over as chief administrator in 1927.

The hospital reportedly used psychiatric drugs to control patient behavior, and between 1948 and 1955, at least 11 patients died in the hospital’s care.

Meanwhile, Wayne Coe and his son were accused of pocketing huge sums of money that should have been spent on patients. This helped the hospital’s critics in Congress make the case for returning the Alaskan patients to their home state.

How a hospital became a mall

Congress passed the Alaskan Mental Health Enabling Act in 1956, and hundreds of patients at Morningside Hospital were transferred back to Alaska.

The hospital continued to take in local patients for more than a decade, but the Coes struggled to make money that way and eventually sold the property to a development company from New York, which opened Mall 205 there in 1970.

As for the patients who spent time at Morningside, many of them are now buried at cemeteries around Portland, including Multnomah Park, Lone Fir, and Rose City.

There’s also an online database where you can search for patients by last name and find court records and other information that researchers have dug up from the archives.

What’s next for PDXplained?

Our latest neighborhood spotlight series is all about Downtown, and we’re taking Qs this week for PDXplained.

Got a burning question about Downtown’s history, culture, or character? Submit it here by Friday and subscribe to our newsletter to get updates on what we’re learning.