Local history: 1920s resort offered ‘health’ on the Hill

Local History is a weekly feature that looks at the people, places and events of Long Beach’s past. Have a question or a piece of history you want us to explore? Email [email protected].

If you didn’t feel so hot back in the early part of the 20th century—maybe feeling nervous, mentally fatigued, having digestive issues, constitutionally out of whack—you might’ve sought solace or even a cure for whatever ailed you at the Orthopedic Health Resort, 200 feet up Signal Hill on Wall Street, near Temple Avenue.

For about six years, from 1917 until about 1924, the health resort, run by osteopath Dr. Arthur E. Pike, used a combination of sunlight, milk and an arsenal of electronic gizmos to treat an array of illnesses and maladies.

Treatments could range anywhere from twice a day to a monthly visit to Pike’s Downtown suite of offices on the sixth floor of the Pacific Security Bank Building.

For the longer, more frequent treatments, patients checked into the eight-acre Signal Hill resort and were put on a scientific diet that depended to a large degree on milk from Holstein cows or Toggenburg goats (milk was considered a natural miracle cure in those days, and was a staple of the Porter Milk Diet Sanitarium, another in-patient health resort down the hill on Sunrise Boulevard that ran from 1907 to 1924).

Treatment included sun baths used to produce light effects, which, said Pike, “is the difference between a plant growing down in the cellar and one in sunlight.”

From one of Pike’s newspaper ads. Why the quotation marks around “your health”?

In one of the health resort’s full-page advertisements, Pike (sort of) explained the more technical gadgets his staff could employ on patients. These included the Mercury Arc Lamp, “the famous actinic light, which destroys all forms of bacteria both superficial and deep by a dual action in its systemic uplift and antiseptic action. The blue light is for malignancies and a general tonic.”

He used “The Morse Wave Generator” “for the correction of constipation, rheumatism and paralytic condition.”

Pike also noted that easy childbirth was a specialty and could be accomplished without any anesthetic. “Osteopathic spine pressure, zone pressure and the oscilloclast will relieve pain in all cases.”

The oscilloclast, apparently, was sort of an all-purpose bit of equipment, which was “invented” by San Francisco osteopath Dr. Albert Abrams, whose techniques were followed by Pike at his resort. Abrams had touted his invention as a machine that could diagnose and treat cancer by testing the patient’s blood. The FDA soon found, however, that it couldn’t differentiate between a red-stained paper and human blood.

So, was Dr. Pike a quack, a charlatan, a fraud?

Long-ago Long Beach historian and newspaperman Walter Case wrote in his book “Long Beach and Vicinity” that “thousands have been treated back to health” by Pike. But Case wrote that back in the 1920s, and while he noted that the doctor was elected as the second mayor of Signal Hill in 1924, there was no mention of the fact that Pike was recalled seven months later by the city’s voters for favoring a company to pave certain city streets that many residents didn’t want paved.

His mayoral recall wasn’t his only setback throughout his long career. In 1924 his osteopathic license was canceled when he was convicted of using the suffix “M.D.” after his name. It was claimed that he bought the M.D. degree from a fake medical college in St. Louis.

Sometime in the 1940s, he began specializing in “maternity services,” which covered a lot of areas, apparently, because he was arrested for performing two “illegal operations” in 1948, according to the Los Angeles Times. The Pomona Progress Bulletin was more specific, referring to the operations more precisely as “abortions.”

In 1951, after a year-long investigation, Long Beach police raided the 70-year-old Pike’s office and he was subsequently tried and found guilty of seven counts of performing illegal operations.

And two years later, he was convicted of income tax evasion and was charged with cheating the government of $8,000. He was spared from prison because of his age and fined $10,000 and given three years probation.

Pike remained in business until 1967 when he retired at 85. He died at 91 on Nov. 26, 1971.

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Tim Grobaty is a columnist and opinions editor for the Long Beach Post. He began his newspaper career at the Press-Telegram in 1976 as a copy boy and moved on to feature writer, music critic, TV critic, copy editor and daily columnist. He’s the author of several books, including I’m Dyin’ Here, and he lives in Long Beach.
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