Thu, 30 May 2013
Bellevue Hospital, you might have heard, once had a very notorious psychiatric ward. But those horror stories have only distracted from the rather breathtaking -- and heart-breaking -- history of this historic institution, a lifeline not only for the sick, but for the poor, the incarcerated, the abandoned -- even the dead!
The hospital traces its origins to a six-bed almshouse that once sat near the location of New York City Hall today. Despite its humble and (to the modern eye) confusing original purposes, the almshouse was miles better than the barbaric medical procedures of early New York, courtesy the ominous sounding 'barber-surgeons'.
A series of yellow fever epidemics moved care for the sick to a former mansion called Belle Vue near Murray Hill -- and, in fact, with a strong connection to Murray himself! Soon the institution fulfilled a variety of roles and in rather ghastly conditions, from 'pest house' to execution ground, from a Pathological Museum to New York's first city morgue.
A great many medical advances came from Bellevue, not least of which the origins of the modern ambulance. But some of that progress has been obscured by the reputation of the Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital which opened in 1931 and 'hosted' a variety of famous people with disturbing issues.
And in the 1980s, Bellevue would take on another grim role -- during the most distressing years of the AIDS crisis.
Thu, 2 May 2013
If you had told 1840s religious leader William Muhlenberg that his innovative new Church of the Holy Communion, designed by renown architect Richard Upjohn, would become the glittering seat of drugs and debauchery 150 years later, he might have burned it down then and there.
But thankfully, this lovely building is still with us, proving to be one of the most flexible examples of building use in New York City history.
This unusual tale begins with the captivating relationship between Muhlenberg (the grandson of America's first Speaker of the House) and Anna Ayres, the First Sister in charge of the Sisterhood of the Holy Communion. The two of them helped create one of New York's great hospital centers. But was something else going on between them?
The Church of the Holy Communion survives the elevated railroad and the fashionable stores of Ladies Mile, and it weathers the various fortunes of the neighborhood. When it is finally sold and deconsecrated, it briefly houses an intellectual collective and a drug rehabilitation center before being bought by Canadian club impresario Peter Gatien, who turns it into an iconic and sacrilegious symbol of New York nightlife.
And today, it makes for a truly bizarre retail experience. Warning: This episode might give you whiplash.