Wednesday, April 14, 2010
The Northern Dispensary - Greenwich Village
In handing over the plot, the City placed a stipulation on the property: it was to be used solely for the purpose of treating the indigent who could not afford hospital care.
Despite its motto, some leaders of the Northern Dispensary had second thoughts when the destitute hoardes began arriving. In its annual report the board voiced concern over exposing the physicians to "the miserable and degraded of our species, loathsome from disease and...disgusting morals."
Yet heal the sick it did. In its first annual report the Dispensary documented 3,296 patients. Among those treated in 1837 was Edgar Allan Poe who complained of a winter cold. And as the city grew northward, the numbers treated in the Dispensary increased.
By 1855 a third floor was necessary. The change in brick is noticeable between the second and third floors even today. Although the unadorned window lintels and sills were copied, a mid-Victorian crenelated cornice was included for interest; however by the turn of the century it had disappeared. Around that time the work of the Dispensary was at its height, caring for 13,809 patients in 1886.
With the advent of the 20th Century, fewer patients were seen, declining to under 5,000 in 1920. Just prior to World War II around half of the Dispensary's efforts was in dental work and by the 1960s it had become solely a dental clinic for those who could not afford other dental care.
Problems came in 1986 when, as the AIDS epidemic was sweeping Greenwich Village, the Dispensary refused to provide dental services to AIDS victims. Reminiscent of the 1828 concern over "the miserable and degraded of our species, loathsome from disease and...disgusting morals," the doctors disregarded both the Hypocratic Oath and the motto that had been displayed over the door for 150 years: Heal The Sick.
Having sat empty for a decade, the building was sold to William Gottlieb who died a year later. The beautiful triangular building still sits unoccupied. Twenty years of dust has accumulated on the dental equipment that was abandoned inside. The 1820s deed restrictions limiting the use of the property for a medical facility for the poor are still in place, making rehabilitation of the building more difficult and its future unclear.