|photo by Alice Lum|
Finally in 1861, with the help of wealthy philanthropists like August Belmont and dozens of successful German-born businessmen, it was incorporated and five years later became the German Hospital and Dispensary of the City of New York (later to become Lenox Hill Hospital).
The wife of one of the hospital’s most active donors, Oswald Ottendorfer, took on medical care for the indigent German population as a passionate cause. In 1880 Anna Ottendorfer gave $68,000 for the construction of a wing devoted to women.
She then turned her sights to establishing a dispensary downtown in Kleindeutchland – or Little Germany. In 1883 Mrs. Ottendorfer searched out an architect and selected German-born William Schickel who produced a robust Italian Renaissance structure in red Philadelphia pressed brick and terra-cotta at No. 137 2nd Avenue – one which, over a century later, the AIA Guide to New York City would call “simultaneously somber and exuberant in its rich molded red-brick and terra-cotta dress.”
While he was at it, Oswald Ottendorfer had him design an abutting, nearly matching but less extroverted library building at No. 135.
|The facade is frosted with exuberant terra cotta ornamentation, including extraordinary portrait busts -- photo by Alice Lum|
Schickel placed a dramatic portico at the entrance, heavy with terra cotta ornamentation including busts of the Greek physician Galen; Celsius, the Roman medical writer; Asklepius, the Greek god of medicine, and the Greek physician, Hippocrates. Beneath the cornice an elaborate terra cotta frieze incorporated busts of more modern medical figures: British physiologist William Harvey; Swedish biologist Carl von Linne; German scientist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt; and Christoph Wilhelm Hufeland, German physician.
|photo by Alice Lum|
A vestibule just inside of the entrance doors was lighted by two skylights extending the entire length. On either side were the dispensary and a reception room for visitors. The second floor housed treatment rooms and above were apartments for the surgeons and attendants.
The building was dedicated on May 24, 1884 in a lavish ceremony that included music by the Liederkranz Quarter and “a long speech” by Dr. A. Jacobi who instructed those gathered on the history of medicine.
In February 1905, as the uptown Yorkville community of Germans developed, the dispensary moved closer to the German Hospital which was located between Park and Lexington Avenues, from 76th to 77th Streets. The 2nd Avenue building was sold to the Deutsche Poliklinik, previously operating at 78 East 7th Street, which also catered to the medical needs of poor German immigrants. A year later the Poliklinik repaired the aging structure.
With the flurry of American patriotism and anti-German sentiment that accompanied the onset of World War I, the facility temporarily changed its name to the Stuyvesant Polyclinic. When the same problem arose during World War II, the name was changed permanently.
In the 1970s the clinic became affiliated with the Cabrini Medical Center and, while no longer free, was serving 2,800 patients in 1978 and around 35,000 in 1983. That year the exterior of the building was restored; however the interior spaces remained severely modernized.
The Cabrini Stuyvesant Polyclinic moved out in August of 2006 and the landmarked building sat empty for two years. In 2008 it was placed on the market for $13 million.
When the British business strategy firm with the unusual name ?What If! purchased the former clinic, it commissioned architects David Mayerfield Associates to restore both the interior and exterior.
When dropped ceilings in the main hall were removed, the 1884 skylights, blacked out in World War II, were rediscovered. Similarly, stained-glass panels in the ceiling of the staircase were uncovered. The colorful encaustic tile floors had been covered over with concrete which was meticulously scraped away.
|The lobby staircase with marble wainscoting, prior to resoration. Photo Curbed New York|
|The encaustic tile floors and the ornate iron staircase on the upper floors were uncovered in the restoration -- photo Bonnie Rosenstock, The Villager|
The German Dispensary building and the accompanying Ottendorfer Library were listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.