By Brian J. Pape, AIA
Not long ago, Saint Vincent’s Hospital was one of the oldest and most revered hospitals in the city. Today, the need for a full-service hospital (ever since Saint Vincent’s closed in 2010 due to mismanagement and bankruptcy), is as great as ever, as demonstrated by the circumstances of the COVID–19 pandemic.
WestView News has proposed a new hospital on several different sites over the years, including Pier 40, St. John’s Terminal, and various places on and around the Saint Vincent’s Triangle Park. In last month’s issue, a two block strip of land on Greenwich Avenue was proposed for demolition for a new hospital site.
As desperate as we are to find a way to get a new hospital, perhaps it is time to revisit what has already been proposed and approved.
In March 2009, the city‘s Landmark‘s Preservation Commission (LPC), voted to approve the design of a replacement hospital for St. Vincent’s. The LPC decision also confirmed that the hospital had the right, as a hardship case, to demolish the O’Toole medical building which had previously been landmarked. The building was originally designed for the National Maritime Union in 1964 by New Orleans architect Albert Ledner, who also designed the National Maritime Union annex building on Ninth Avenue in Chelsea just a few years later.
This momentous event unfolded after years of arduous planning by the architects Pei Cobb Freed and Partners, and Ballenger, during which multiple schemes and revisions were presented to assuage the criticism of commissioners and others. In the architects’ report to the LPC, the new hospital tower would consolidate all of the hospital’s operations into one building and feature an egg-shaped terracotta-clad tower, with 366 acute care beds and 614,000 feet of floor area. It included 30 beds per floor, with floors dedicated to ICU, OB/NICU, OR, RAD/ONC, clinical support, diagnostic, mechanical, and emergency departments. The emergency department was designed to address the needs of more than 60,000 patients a year. The cost was approximated at $830 million, averaging $1,352 per square feet ($2,267,760 per bed). The new hospital building would have 19 stories—286 feet tall—in the Greenwich Village Historic District.
Even as Saint Vincent’s made its case for a new building, residents expressed outrage at the redevelopment of the campus buildings. The Rudin Management Company’s proposal to redevelop hospital buildings for new residential uses was reportedly the largest ever proposed in an historic district, at 1.3 million square feet of space.
Consideration of alternative sites has been ongoing for many years. This site has a hospital use already. Why not resurrect a hospital facility similar to the architects’ design for this location, perhaps saving the Ledner shell and building the tower above it?
Brian J. Pape is a LEED-AP “green” architect consulting in private practice, serves on the Manhattan District 2 Community Board, is Co-chair of the American Institute of Architects NY Design for Aging Committee, and is a journalist who writes about architecture.