Defunct city hospitals and their amazing buildings

These days, New York’s hospitals are consolidating and shrinking. But in the late 19th century city, hospital building was on the upswing—inspired by a rapidly growing population, the benevolent spirit of Gilded Age society, and a better sense of how to treat disease and illness.

“There are nearly 80 of these ‘inns on the highway of life where suffering humanity finds alleviation and sympathy,’ and many of them are among the largest and most magnificent buildings in the city.” stated King’s Handbook of New York City in 1892.

Recently the New York Academy of Medicine digitized 118 postcards of New York City hospitals. They’re part of the Robert Matz Hospital Postcard Collection, which includes about 2,000 postcards—many of 19th and early 20th century hospitals that have either been demolished and forgotten, repurposed for other uses, or are still (partially at least) standing, but with a different name.

Hahnemann Hospital (top image) is one that no New Yorker today would recognize. This spectacular hospital building opened in 1878 at Park Avenue between 67th and 68th Streets. “In addition to its free beds, the hospital provides a quiet and comforting home for the sick and suffering of all classes under homeopathic treatment,” stated King’s. It was sold in 1919 and an apartment building went up on this site in the 1920s.

City Hospital, on what was then called Blackwell’s Island, is another stunning structure (second image)—built by inmates serving time in the island’s prisons. James Renwick, Jr. designed the building, which opened in 1861. Closed in the 1930s and abandoned, City (later called Charity) hospital was bulldozed in 1994.

In 1874, an English surgeon described The Roosevelt Hospital, at 59th Street and 10th Avenue (third image), as “Without exception the most complete medical charity in every respect,” according to King’s. It owes its existence to James H. Roosevelt, who left his estate to create “a hospital for the reception and relief of sick and diseased persons, and for its permanent endowment.”

Today, what eventually became St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital has been rebranded Mount Sinai West. I believe most of these original buildings are gone, but the early surgery theater still remains.

Morningside Heights’ Woman’s Hospital (above) moved to this spot near the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in 1906. It merged with St. Luke’s Hospital in 1952, though this incredible Gothic building remained until the mid-1970s.

Originally located on Madison Avenue and 29th Street and then Park Avenue and 51st Street, Women’s Hospital was founded by surgeon Dr. Marion Sims—whose reputation has been called into question and a Fifth Avenue statue dedicated to Sims removed in 2018.

[All postcards belong to the New York Academy of Medicine/Robert Matz Hospital Postcard Collection]

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9 Responses to “Defunct city hospitals and their amazing buildings”

  1. petey Says:

    great images, and i love King’s Handbook: when i bought it i more or less read the whole thing!

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Thanks Petey, it’s a treasure! Unfortunately I need to read it with glasses now, since the type is just so small.

  2. mitzanna Says:

    I remember the remaining parts of Roosevelt Hospital being on 9th Avenue between 58th & 59th Street on the west side of the street. I lived around the corner in the early 70’s. At one time Ethel Merman was a volunteer in their gift shop, probably in the late 60’s.

  3. Timothy Grier Says:

    My Dad worked at Goldwater Memorial Hospital on Welfare Island (formerly Blackwell’s Island currently Roosevelt Island). Back in the sixties my brothers and I roamed the interior of the abandoned City Hospital one of the many abandoned buildings on the island at that time.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      That must have been quite an adventure. It still shocks me that the building was abandoned for so long and then was demolished, with no regard for its former beauty and history.

  4. Michala Biondi Says:

    Hi – just a note – Roosevelt Hospital merged with St. Luke’s Hospital in 1979 to become the Roosevelt Division of the St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center, to be specific, and the Roosevelt Division is now Mount Sinai West. the St. Luke’s Division is now Mount Sinai Morningside. The operating theater mentioned is gone – only the outside of the building was land-marked. the internal space was reconstructed to be a grade school, so the space that was once ‘cutting edge’ for surgery is no longer. the current (Roosevelt) Hospital was constructed through the sale of east half of the block of land it originally owned, so that is all different now. Mitzanna’s comment above, is correct Ethel Merman was a volunteer in the 1960s and also donated the funds for what was then the ivy garden. I believe her mother was a patient at Roosevelt Hospital, which got her involved. Oh, and Woman’s Hospital was founded by Dr. J. Marion Sims and a group of influential women who ran the hospital, and it merged with St. Luke’s January 1, 1953.

  5. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Thank you! The name changes are confusing, but what upsets me is that the operating theater is gone. I used to work nearby and loved seeing it. What a shame that it’s no longer.

  6. michala Says:

    time marching on (and sometimes over good things)…

  7. Bill Wolfe Says:

    These remind me of the fictional Knickerbocker Hospital on the TV series “The Knick” from a few years ago. If these had been preserved, I bet they’d be among the most desired condo/townhouses in the city today.

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