At 100, S.F.s Mount Zion hospital still giving back

By the late 19th century, San Francisco boasted a Jewish hospital that accepted all patients, regardless of race, creed, color or ability to pay: Mount Zion.

Exactly 100 years ago construction began on Mount Zion’s Hellman Building at 2200 Post St. The facility stands today, still treating the sick.

Former and current employees of Mount Zion, which merged with UCSF in 1989, think that’s cause for celebration.

The UCSF Medical Center at Mount Zion will hold a community health fair and invitation-only commemoration June 18.

“It’s a wonderful thing,” said Jill Einstein, a physician and Mount Zion Health Fund board member. “Mount Zion Hospital was an amazing organization, very much like a family. Even after the merger, there is still a sense that the Mount Zion campus is a little different from the others.”


A ceremony marks the laying of the cornerstone at Mount Zion Hospital on Aug. 14, 1912. photo/courtesy of ucsf medical center at mount zion

The community health fair, which takes place on the sidewalk in front of the Post Street facility, will feature booths touting UCSF services, such as the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine, the sleep disorders center and women’s health center.


Also on tap: live music, games and face painting for the kids, healthy fare from nearby restaurants and complimentary massages.

The day begins with a reception for Mount Zion doctors, nurses, administrators and volunteers. Set to speak are UCSF Medical Center CEO Mark Laret and local journalist Frances Dinkelspiel, a descendant of Isaias Hellman, who funded the Hellman Building.

With more than 200 attendees expected, Einstein figures this is the last time so many Mount Zion alumni will gather in one place. They will reminisce about an institution that, she says, made a difference in the life of San Francisco.

“It was the only Jewish hospital in Northern California,” Einstein added. “It was open to taking care of patients of any background, including African Americans, which not all hospitals did. It was a hospital to rally around.”

Mount Zion was incorporated as a Jewish hospital in 1887. Ten years later it opened on the corner of Sutter and Hyde streets.

After the 1906 earthquake and fire, the Mount Zion board decided to build a new state-of-the-art hospital. Despite the city’s devastation, fundraising began in 1908.

The Mount Zion Ladies’ Auxiliary Society played a big role, especially under the leadership of Isaias Hellman’s wife, Esther. Upon her death in 1908, Hellman donated $100,000 for a new hospital in the Western Addition, to be named for his wife.

“San Francisco was in such a demolished state,” said Gail Sorrough, the director of Medical Library Services for UCSF Medical Center at Mount Zion. “It was remarkable they raised the amount of money they did. It was the death of Esther that triggered the influx. Her husband was so grief-stricken he decided to give $100,000 in her honor.”

Groundbreaking took place in December 1911, with the cornerstone laid the following year. The Hellman Building opened its doors in 1914. It could accommodate 160 patients, with private wards costing $3 a day.

Over the coming decades, Mount Zion was a key component of the San Francisco health care system. The hospital coordinated with all Jewish institutions associated with the Federation of Jewish Charities, including the Eureka Benevolent Society (forerunner to today’s Jewish Family and Children’s Services) and Sinai Memorial Chapel funeral home.

After World War II, Mount Zion thrived for a time, but eventually new economic realities, including changes in insurance law and government regulations, chipped away at the institution’s fiscal health. By the 1980s, the hospital was struggling. Fortunately, there was a savior.

“It was time for transition,” Sorrough said. “UCSF had had a relationship with Mount Zion going back to the 1920s, and then formalized it over the years. In 1990 everyone became a UCSF employee overnight. The hospital is still here because of that.”

Since the merger, the Mount Zion name lives on, as does the progressive medical approach of the original hospital.

The Mount Zion Health Fund, on which Einstein serves, manages monies that are part of the hospital’s philanthropies. The  $40 million endowment is a supporting foundation of the Jewish Community Endowment Fund.

Those philanthropic dollars fund everything from continuing education for staff doctors to purchasing a new ultrasound machine for the pediatrics ward. Einstein said it’s a way of continuing the hospital founders’ adherence to Jewish values and community improvement.

Added Einstein: “It’s a wonderful way that the tradition and history of Mount Zion has remained.”

The Mount Zion Community Health Fair takes place 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. June 18, at Post Street between Divisadero and Scott in San Francisco. Admission is free. Information:

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a J. staff writer. He retired as news editor in 2020. Dan can be reached at