What remains of Astoria’s River Crest Sanitarium

Astoria in the 19th century was a riverfront neighborhood of expansive estates and houses, as well as a country-like destination for Manhattan residents seeking open space and East River breezes.

As the century came to a close, and the estates were beginning to be carved up and replaced by industry, one pioneering doctor decided Astoria would be the right place to open his own sanitarium.

Dr. John Kindred’s River Crest Sanitarium launched in 1896. The spacious institution consisted of eight separate buildings at today’s Ditmars Boulevard and 26th Street.

Built on land once known as the Wolcott Estate, the private sanitarium advertised itself as a place for people with “mental and nervous diseases” and alcohol and drug addiction, according to Long Island City, by the Greater Astoria Historical Society.

A mental hospital and rehab facility may not sound too unusual to contemporary New Yorkers. But this kind of place was novel in the 1890s. At the time, psychology was in its infancy, and mental issues were usually viewed as more of a morals problem, not a brain disorder.

People suffering from mental illness had few options. There was always the Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell’s Island—which had to eventually close after Nelly Bly exposed its horrific conditions in 1887.

Private sanitariums like River Crest filled the void, if you could afford it. While it’s unclear what it would cost to undergo “electro-therapy” or “hydro-therapy-massage,” as the postcard advertises, the place seems geared toward the wealthy.

The above ad emphasizes River Crest’s “splendid views” of the East River for “first-class patients.” The facility even had an early phone number: 36 Astoria.

Dr. Kindred had some training in psychology, though it’s unclear how effective his sanitarium was. Old newspaper articles reference patients who were there for everything from cocaine addiction to “temporary mental aberration.” Articles also note several escapes, suicides, and people committed against their will.

Long Island City states that patients were cared for at River Crest until the 1920s. Forgotten New York has it that River Crest closed in 1961, and a high school now occupies the space.

Forgotten New York also pointed out in 2009 that a ramp and two gateposts from River Crest are still at the site—apparently all that remains of a facility with a peaceful name that must have seen its share of trauma.

[Top image: Wikipedia/Greater Astoria Historical Society; second image: New York Academy of Medicine/Robert Matz Hospital Postcard Collection; third image: Brooklyn Daily Eagle; fourth image: Medical Record; fifth image: Wikipedia/Greater Astoria Historical Society]

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8 Responses to “What remains of Astoria’s River Crest Sanitarium”

  1. Kenny Says:

    The Betty Ford Clinic of it’s day; back then it should have been called The Mary Todd Lincoln Clinic.

  2. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Poor Mrs. Lincoln!

  3. John Harp Says:

    The founder and medical director of the River Crest Sanitarium (John Joseph Kindred, M.D.) was also twice-elected a member of the U.S. Congress from this Queens district as a Democrat (March 4, 1911-March 3, 1913) & (March 4, 1921-March 3, 1929) – He died at his home on the Sanitarium property on October 23, 1937 – (N.Y. Times obit October 25, 1937). There is a small office building located at 21-43 31st Street – even today known as the Kindred Building.

  4. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    thanks John, I ran out of room to mention his political background. There was also a Kindred Street named for him: https://books.google.com/books?id=fI-gsoO63MYC&pg=PA88&lpg=PA88&dq=kindred+street+queens+astoria&source=bl&ots=NFwfVg-vV7&sig=ACfU3U3wPnrgWYdzYD9aaZBF9H76YYqFGw&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwifquuSqazpAhWUmXIEHdqQBkAQ6AEwBHoECAkQAQ#v=onepage&q=kindred%20street%20queens%20astoria&f=false

  5. Bill Wolfe Says:

    I’m curious about that phone number, 36 Astoria. I’m familiar with the type of number made famous by John O’Hara in BUtterfield-8, but I’ve never seen a number with the number preceding the word.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      These are the really old numbers they began giving out in the 1890s…in 1896 only 2,600 people were customers of the phone company. I don’t think it was until the 1920s or 1930s when they expanded to the BUtterfield-8 style.

  6. Ken S. Says:

    Perhaps worthy to mention that St. John’s Preparatory High School, formerly Mater Christi High School and Mater Christi Diocesan High School, was constructed on the site in 1961.

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