A West Side hospital meant to look like a castle

When the cornerstone of the New-York Cancer Hospital—at 106th Street and Central Park West—was unveiled in an 1884 ceremony attended by wealthy benefactors like John Jacob Astor III, “cancer was still a disease synonymous with shame, believed to be as contagious as syphilis,” wrote the New York Times in 1984.

By the time the hospital began treating its first patients in 1887, former president and city resident Ulysses S. Grant had lost his very public battle with throat cancer, and the mystery surrounding the disease gripped New Yorkers.

An illness as feared as cancer deserved a building that would inspire and uplift.

That might be one reason architect Charles C. Haight chose to model the new facility—a Gothic red-brick collection of five round towers with cathedral-like windows—on a Renaissance chateau in France’s Loire Valley called Le Lude (at left).

Sure, there’s a resemblance. Yet the Renaissance design was about more than aesthetics.

Haight designed the circular hospital buildings in part because “it was thought that the shape prevented air stagnation and the accumulation of dirt and germs in corners,” states Guide to New York City Landmarks. With so much not known about how cancer forms and spreads, germ control was definitely something to consider.

New York Cancer Hospital (above, in 1916) wasn’t the only circular hospital of the era. The former Gouverneur Hospital, on Water Street, also features two sphere-like towers.

This 1901 facility ended up with spherical shapes because “it was believed that tuberculosis bacilli hid in corners, so the shape was an early attempt at preventive medicine,” according to a 1993 New York Times article.

New-York Cancer Hospital has long sense decamped Central Park West; it evolved into today’s Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Today the chateau-like building is a condo residence. I don’t know what it’s like inside, but the exterior is spectacular.

[First image: NYPL; third image: MCNY X2010.7.1.5196; fourth image: Wikipedia]

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9 Responses to “A West Side hospital meant to look like a castle”

  1. Tom B Says:

    I think an old “Million Dollar Listing-New York” episode showed the inside of a residence. Synagogues are also spherical shape so the devil can’t get you cornered.

    • BethBeth Says:

      The devil isn’t really a thing in Judaism and none of the synagogues I’ve attended were spherical. This assertion doesn’t make sense.

  2. Brian Says:

    Also a notoriously bad nursing home run by Bernard Bergman, a huge scandal in the 1970s. In the 80’s we called its abandoned, broken windowed, barb-wired, shooting gallery hulk the scariest building in NY.

  3. Bob Says:

    Interior photos here:

    https://www.6sqft.com/the-many-lives-and-miraculous-recovery-of-nycs-first-cancer-hospital/

    https://www.sothebyshomes.com/nyc/sales/0017769

  4. uly Says:

    We had a hospital like that on Staten Island, on Castleton, but it’s since been torn down.

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