As demolition approaches, learn the history of Kracke and its namesake

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Contributions by Mary Ashley Canavero

old view of kracke current view of kracke

Drag the slider to see the Kracke Buildling in 1965 vs. 2021. Photos: UAB ARCHIVES and STEVE WOOD / University Relations

Demolition will begin later this year on the Roy R. Kracke Clinical Services Buildling to make way for construction of the Altec Styslinger Genomic Medicine and Data Sciences Building, which will enhance research in genomic medicine and computational biology. The new facility, on Seventh Avenue South between 19th and 20th streets, will be central to the complex of research and support facilities that form the hub of UAB’s basic and translational research enterprise.

Kracke, one of the oldest buildings on campus, was constructed in 1929 as a dormitory for nursing students and nurses of Hillman Hospital and served that purpose for more than three decades, according to UAB Archives. Resident students attended a three-year program called the Hillman Hospital Training School for Nurses, which launched soon after the new hospital facility opened in 1903. The program’s first class matriculated Feb. 28, 1905, with Birmingham native Elizabeth Hale as its first graduate.

nursing studentsKracke was constructed in 1929 as a dormitory for nursing students and nurses of Hillman Hospital. UAB ARCHIVES

The beginnings

In July 1965, the residence was dedicated to Roy R. Kracke, M.D., the first dean of the four-year Medical College of Alabama in Birmingham, known today as the UAB School of Medicine.

Renovations introduced modernized work areas and new equipment for clinical and surgical pathology labs. A faculty dining area and lounge created the first on-campus rest area for clinicians. Improvements also included the first core laboratory; today, UAB’s institutional and unit-level cores work as centralized, shared research resources that provide access to instruments and technologies.

kracke desk insideKracke at his Hillman Hospital desk in 1945. UAB ARCHIVESWho was Roy Kracke?

Kracke was influential in developing the entity today known as the UAB School of Medicine. But first, he trained in the U.S. Navy Hospital Corps and served at U.S. Naval Base Hospital No. 1 in Brest, France. Next he worked as a lab instructor at the U.S. Naval Medical School in Washington, D.C., and as a lab assistant in Memphis, Tennessee. Then he moved to Alabama to study and work as a part-time bacteriology instructor at the University of Alabama. There he developed a new staining dish to accommodate large quantities of tissue and bacteriologic smears, according to an article published in the Journal of American Medicine in 1926.

Afterward, he studied medicine at the University of Chicago and instructed in pathology, bacteriology and laboratory diagnosis at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, where he authored “Diseases of the Blood and Atlas of Hematology.”

He returned to Alabama in the early 1940s to help found a new medical university in Birmingham. From his office in Hillman Hospital in 1944 he began the process of merging Jefferson and Hillman hospitals to form the University of Alabama’s Jefferson-Hillman Hospital and a new academic medical center. Kracke was dean and professor of clinical medicine in the Medical College of Alabama until 1950.

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Clockwise: Mathew McNulty, ScD., general director of the University of Alabama Hospitals and Clinics (left), with Virginia Kracke, wife to Roy Kracke, M.D., Frank Rose, president of the University of Alabama, and Joseph Volker, DDS, M.D., at the unveiilng of a portrait of Roy Kracke, M.D., in July 1965; Kracke Building in 1965; a May 1965 article in the Medical Center Bulletin about the building’s renovations; Kracke, seated third from left, with Medical College of Alabama faculty and students in 1945; physicians enjoyed a meal in Kracke’s fine dining room in the mid-1960s. IMAGES FROM THE UAB ARCHIVES

A lasting influence

Kracke, a native of Hartselle, Alabama, used his influence to improve gender and racial equality in the practice of medicine in the Deep South. He enrolled three Black women into his nursing program in 1947 and worked to further the goals of Black physician groups. Kracke also created opportunities for women physicians. He appointed Melson Barfield-Carter, M.D., the first professor and chair of the college’s Department of Radiology in 1945 and appointed Alice McNeal, M.D., the chair for the new Department of Anesthesiology in 1948.

According to the School of Medicine, Kracke understood the impact of health care inequities and sought to improve access to care for underserved populations in the community — work that continues today in the UAB’s Minority Health and Health Disparities Research Center.

Kracke and Joseph F. Volker, DDS, Ph.D., dean of the School of Dentistry from 1948 to 1962, set a new standard for collaboration with their plan to share and fund the basic health science departments — still in operation today as Joint Health Sciences.

A current Google Street View of the Kracke Building, the Pittman Center for Advanced Medical Studies (right) and the Lyons-Harrison Research Building (left). Check back in to watch this section of campus transform.

A new chapter

The Altec Styslinger Genomic Medicine and Data Sciences Building will continue Kracke’s mission to enhance the medical services UAB provides.

“In alignment with our missions of advanced growth, cutting-edge research and groundbreaking innovation, the School of Medicine's facilities projects will support our goal of being the preferred academic medical center of the 21st century,” said School of Medicine Dean Selwyn M. Vickers, M.D. “The new spaces will allow for more interdisciplinary collaboration and help recruit top talent in scientific fields. I am proud of our efforts and thank our state governmental leaders, UAB administration and UA System leadership for their support.”

The Pittman Center for Advanced Medical Studies also will be razed this summer, and the Lyons-Harrison Research Building will be renovated to provide 145,000 square feet for computational research and office, administrative and meeting space.

Want to learn more about the new genomics facility? Watch a replay of the recent Genomics Town Hall. Denton Lunceford, assistant vice president for UAB Facilities, outlines the project timeline, immediate next steps and potential impacts to vehicle and pedestrian traffic.

Click the arrows to see two renderings of the new genomics building.

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