Posts Tagged ‘Second Avenue German Dispensary’

The terra cotta beauty of the German Dispensary

February 26, 2018

If you walk by it on a weekly basis, as I usually do, you might start to take the red brick loveliness at 137 Second Avenue for granted.

But stop one day and behold its beauty: the rich detailing, the bas relief sculptures, and the arched portico entrance that in 1884 welcomed sick residents of what was then Kleindeutschland, or Little Germany.

This is the former German Dispensary, kind of a walk-in clinic for neighborhood folks who didn’t have the means to see a private doctor. Dispensaries not quite as striking as this one served the poor all over New York until after the 20th century.

The German Dispensary building was a gift from Anna and Oswald Ottendorfer, immigrant publishers of Staats-Zeitung, the leading German newspaper in the 19th century city (it still exists today).

The Ottendorfers were heavily into philanthropy in the city. They funded a German school, a women’s wing of the German Hospital (renamed Lenox Hill in 1918 due to anti-German sentiment), and a home for indigent German women in Astoria called the Isabella.

They hired German-born architect William Schickel to design the dispensary and a library next door, according to the Landmarks Preservation Committee report from 1976. (The photo above is from 1975.)

The library (at left) was the city’s first free public library, and Mr. Ottendorfer personally picked out the books, half in German and half in English.

Mrs. Ottendorfer didn’t live to see the dispensary or library completed. And the dispensary itself didn’t last very long; by 1905 it had decamped for another building closer to the hospital.

A dispensary run by the German Poliklinik took over 137 Second Avenue, and eventually that was bought by Cabrini Medical Center, the old hospital near Stuyvesant Square.

Little Germany is long gone. But if you stand in front of the fiery red building, with its busts of famous doctors and floral friezes, you can feel the ghosts of what was one a thriving, self-contained New York neighborhood.

[Fourth photo: Edmund Vincent Gillon/MCNY, 1975: 2013.3.2.33; fifth photo: NYPL]