Posts Tagged ‘Mrs. William K. Vanderbilt’

Fighting the “white plague” on Cherokee Place

February 17, 2009

The charming Cherokee Apartments on 77th Street and Cherokee Place—a sliver of a block between York Avenue and John Jay Park—have wrought-iron balconies, tiled tunnels leading to a central courtyard, and large windows. Another lovely 20th century apartment complex, it seems.

Not exactly. They were originally built as the Shively Sanitary Tenements (some sources call them the East River Houses) in 1910 for poor New Yorkers suffering from the deadly white plague—tuberculosis.

cherokeeapts Mrs. William K. Vanderbilt put up the money for the tenements. She got the idea from a doctor who ran the TB clinic the Vanderbilts funded at Presbyterian Hospital, Henry Shively. 

At the time, the only treatment for TB was fresh air and light. So the tenements were built close to the East River, where residents could catch cool breezes. All windows faced outward for maximum air and light exposure. 

The balconies encouraged the sick to be outside; wide corridors and stairwells made it less likely that healthy family members of the sick would catch TB too. Chairs built into landings at the top of each set of stairs helped easily winded residents go up and down.


 The whole idea was great in theory. But by 1912, the tenements were declared a failure, mainly because the rent was too high for poor, tuberculosis-stricken families.

In 1924 they were sold to a private developer, and at some point renamed and turned into co-ops.