by Susie Hodgson

Providence St. Joseph’s Hospital, an institution in Burbank (and the whole valley for that matter!) broke ground on St. Joseph’s Day, which many of us might associate with the swallows at San Juan Capistrano – March 19. The year was 1942 and the hospital opened in 1943.

But let’s go back. Providence Health Systems was founded in the 1850s by Catholic sisters with the mission of helping patients who did not have the means to pay for medical care. Today, it is one of the largest (if not the largest) not-for-profit health care systems there is. Based in Renton, WA, Providence is made up of more than 50 hospitals, more than 1,000 clinics, with staff members numbering over 120,000. It is one of the largest employers in the San Fernando Valley and treats literally thousands of patients.

Here in the Los Angeles area, in about 1940, the Archdiocese decided that the growing San Fernando Valley was in need of a major hospital and started looking for land. That’s when our very own Walt Disney stepped in. Disney had moved into Burbank with the profits gained from the hit movie “Snow White.” St. Joseph’s moved into the acreage across the street from the Disney world headquarters on Buena Vista Street, with Walt donating both land – and money. He was present at the groundbreaking (we have photos at the Burbank Historical Society/Gordon R. Howard museum!) and served on the Board for years. Disney’s artists, including the talented Mary Blair, adorned the walls with artwork and murals. The nursery was especially endearing.

Sadly, Walt checked himself into the hospital in the end of 1966, having felt ill for a while. A virtual lifelong smoker, he was soon diagnosed with lung cancer and died a mere few weeks later at St. Joseph’s Hospital. Interestingly, the night before he died, he had a conversation with his brother Roy, discussing a new theme park project in Florida. Roy was going to retire, but after Walt passed, Roy made it his goal to see the Florida project through.

And he did. Named Walt Disney World (note it was Walt Disney World and not just Disney World), Roy insisted that everyone say WALT Disney World. (The advent of the Internet pretty much eliminated that, though.)

Yet, only a few weeks after the completion of Walt Disney World, Roy Disney died of cancer (though some say a stroke) almost five years to the day after his beloved brother Walt did, also at St. Joseph’s Hospital. The Disney Company is still an active supporter of St. Joseph’s Hospital, and it was Roy’s son, also named Roy, along with his wife Patricia, who sponsored the Roy and Patricia Disney Cancer Center.

2022 saw some significant changes to the hospital. A new CEO, Karl Keeler, was appointed in August 2022. September of the same year saw the opening of a much larger and technologically advanced, $78 million Emergency Department, all funded by community donations.

So, heaven forbid, the next time the ambulance whisks you off in Burbank or any neighboring community, chances are you’ll end up at St. Joseph’s. And if you’re lucky, you just might spy a Mary Blair cartoon adorning the wall. Just think – you and Cinderella, or Alice in Wonderland or Peter Pan. Besides a really talented staff, what more could make you feel better?!

The Burbank Historical Society/Gordon R. Howard Museum
Located in George Izay Park, right next to the Creative Arts Center
Phone: (818) 841-6333
Web site:

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