South San Francisco's First Hospital: SSF Historical Society

Photos provided by the Historical Society of South San Francisco (SSF), California.

The Plymire-Schwarz House , built in 1905 by H.G. Harry (aka Henry) Garrison Plymire, M.D, was South San Francisco's first hospital originally located at the northwest corner of Grand and Spruce Avenues. The houses' architecture is described as "colonial revival-style" which reflects the type of homes that were built in the early 19th century. Dr. Plymire financed the building and was one of South San Francisco's first physicians and founding fathers who (alongside and brother, Dr. Brandley Plymire) treated patients that came to the hospital with emergency (non-life threatening) or industry-related illnesses or conditions. In fact, many of their patients included factory and industrial workers. In addition, Dr. H.G. Plymire served as the first president of the San Mateo Medical Society , South San Francisco Board of Health member, and also as the San Mateo County coroner.

The Plymire hospital's central location saved the residents of San Bruno, Daly City, and Colma the cost and inconvenience of having to travel to San Francisco or San Mateo for treatment. However, the Plymire brothers' practice only lasted until 1915 after Dr. H.G. Plymire died of pneumonia at the age of 38. Subsequently, the practice and house were sold to Dr. Frank Stephen Dolley (a thoracic surgeon for $10,000. He moved the house to its current location at 519 Grand Avenue. Subsequently, Dr. Dolley formed a corporation to build a new hospital at 500 Grand Avenue completed in 1918, The hospital cost $50,000 and was built just in time to treat those affected by the 1918 Influenza (Spanish flu) pandemic (H1N1 virus). See historical note below. 

Obituary: SSF Instagram Post

Throughout the 1920s and 1930s the house changed ownership and its intended use. In subsequent years. The house was converted into an "Industrial Club for Business and Professional Men" and owned by Savino and Gertrude Gianella who ran the property as a boarding house. The house then became a private residence owned by Nathan and Jessie Adler in the late 1930s. Finally, the house changed hands again when Ernst Schwarz bought the house in 1958, making him and his soon-to-be wife the last private owners.

Ernst was a World War II (WWII) veteran and avid painter. He married Margarete Scholz in 1960 who was born in China, lived in Germany, and then moved to the United States in 1957. Ernst and Margarete lived in the house (filled with Ernst's artwork) until his death in 1984. Margarete continued to live in the house and turned it back into a boarding home. It was always her wish to preserve the house and Ernst's artwork. Therefore, in 1993, Margarete died and had willed the house to the Historical Society of South San Francisco. This historical piece of history in South San Francisco (SSF) was designated as a historical house and museum in 1995.  

Once the historical society took ownership, board member Roy Brava's passion for history compelled him to keep up the house so that the next generation of SSF (aka South City) residents could see "something tangible" about the town from days gone by. The home was beautifully renovated (inside and out) over the last three decades due to the hard work of volunteers who furnished the house with generously donated antiques that represent the early 1900s. The house is filled with all sorts of historic artifacts including pictures, clothing, furniture, drapery, and other period pieces of the early 20th century. One of the items that is particularly impressive and of historic interest is the original, completely restored, 1910 Cribben-Sexton Company stove located in the kitchen.

The narrated video (see link below) of the home describes and showcases all of the restoration work completed. The video also mentions unique collections within the home including archives of the SSF local newspaper, "The Enterprise Journal" along with an exhibit and gallery of Ernst's artwork, located in the top floor library and throughout the house. The only original piece in the house is a piano. The restoration efforts focused on preserving the home to reflect the time period, not the hospital. 

Prior to the pandemic, the general public could walk in for a free, docent-led tour on Wednesdays between 2 and 4 pm. The docents that were interviewed for the website's video (see link below) included SSF Historical Society Board members, Roy Brava, Jeanette Acosta, and Mary Giusti. Due to the current pandemic, the museum is temporarily closed. However, the boutique was open during a two-week time period in October for a socially distanced one-hour shopping spree for up to four people. These visits were scheduled by appointment and guests were required to comply with the precautions of temperature taking and mask wearing upon arrival.

The historical society raised money to help maintain the house by selling stones that are laid along a concrete path in and amongst the wonderful, volunteer maintained garden around the house. However, there is no more land to lay these stones around the house, so other fundraising activities are now taking place, such as their "Garden Tea Party" and "Fall Boutique" and hosted by volunteers. 

The Plymire-Schwarz House Museum

Today is Halloween, so it is apt to mention that one of the docents (Mary Giusti) indicated that it is believed by those who enter the house, they might encounter a ghost. In fact, some of the women docents won't go upstairs because they have an "uncomfortable feeling" and/or are afraid of encountering the ghost. The story goes (according to Jeanette Acosta) that one of the docents was sitting on the home's doorstep waiting for another docent to arrive when she heard a noise coming from inside the house. When she entered the house she heard someone saying "hello?, hello?". However, there was absolutely no one in the house. The "ghost" (as suggested by Mary Guisti) is suspected to be Mrs. Schwarz.

Historical Note: An article from the PBSAmerican Experience website eerily chronicles the flu of 1918's impact to San Franciscans that in many ways mirrors the events of the 2020 pandemic (COVID-19). As previously mentioned, the house is temporarily closed. However, a video tour on the website provides a glimpse into a similar moment in time one hundred years ago to our present day's challenges. Therefore, it is a tribute to the board members, volunteers, and staff of the historical society for their great and noble  efforts in preserving this home for the present generation and generations to come as a physical, symbolic reminder that Americans can withstand , re-build, and overcome our nation's hardships, financial calamities, devastatingly horrific disease, and scary times. 

For More Information:

Phone: (650) 875-6988

Email: [email protected] 



The Plymire-Schwarz House (About)

The Plymire-Schwarz House

City of South San Francisco: History

Everything South City: Julie Chimenti

Book: Images of America: South San Francisco, Founding FathersArcadia, 2004

Updated: October 31, 2020