HOSPITAL OF THE DAMNED

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In the center of Staten Island there is a place of odd, derelict beauty and Stygian, impenetrable ruin. It is located in the Seaview Hospital complex on Brielle Avenue, Willowbrook, Staten Island, where the once-gorgeous Women’s Ward Pavilion has been allowed to disintegrate and crumble for the past 35 years.

In 2000 I was asked to accompany an ‘infiltration’ of the Women’s Ward Pavilion of the Seaview Hospital by Julia of darkpassage.com, and saw not only the ravages of 25 years of total neglect, but artifacts of a past age. Enter with us if you dare…

 

The battlements of the abandoned portion of Seaview Hospital beckon the explorers upon arriving at the Brielle Avenue site.

 

The Seaview Hospital complex was designed by Raymond Almilrall and built between 1905 and 1938. Many of the buildings are in the Spanish Mission style. It was, at one time, the largest tuberculosis hospital at a time when fresh air was considered the most effective treatment of “the white plague.” The first drug trials leading to a cure for ‘consumption’ were made at Seaview Hospital.

 

Let’s walk the corridor to see who…or what…is here to greet us.

 

Well, Ed Koch is here. But who’s that with him?

We’re in the Nurses’ Recreation Room, by the way, by the inscription on the door.

 

Look, it’s an old Steinway. Tell you what…I’ll play…

 

And you ghosts can dance!

Speaking of playing, Forgotten Fan Peter Sefton reports:

One of the Seaview ghosts is Charlie Christian, the great pioneering jazz electric guitarist. I remember reading years ago that he went to Seaview to mend after being forced to drop out of Benny Goodman’s quartet by bouts of coughing. Then a friend smuggled 2 wanton women and a fistful of marijuana cigarettes in to cheer him up. A few days later, on March 2, 1942, he was dead at age 25.

 

And when we’re done fooling around, how about a sandwich and a brew.

Continuing along the corridors of this section of Seaview Hospital, we found several toys, magazines left there, untouched, apparently, since 1974, and piles of wrecked furniture and interestingly, discarded medical records and X-Rays. We also stumbled on a corridor leading to an active wing of the hospital.

Rather than be arrested or admitted, we decided to leave Seaview Hospital to its dust, X-Rays and ghosts and enter our true quarry, the Women’s Ward pavilion.

 

From the Preservation League Of Staten Island:

Architect Raymond F. Almirall of New York City designed the buildings and the terra cotta ornament. The ceramic work was produced in Delft, Holland by the Joost Thooft & Labouchere Company. This company has been in continuous operation since the 1750s. The design is a brilliantly colored series of ceramic murals and reliefs with gold square tiles, garlands, crests and seashells. Almost life-size figures of children, nurses and physicians are repeated on each building. There are four distinct groups of figures along with a series of iconographic shields.

It’s hard to accurately describe the ruin and abandonment we found upon entering one of the four pavilions left standing. Broken glass everywhere, the accumulated rust of 25 years, and bannisters so far gone they crumbled to the touch. Fortunately, the staircases were made of concrete and so afforded a relatively safe entry to upper floors. But some of the wooden floors were nearly collapsing and an inalert infiltrator may find him/herself falling through. This did not happen to us today.

 

You are met by a wheelchair of, I’d guess, 1930s-1950s vintage, with the odd rusted boxspring and dislodged toilet bowl strewn around for additional decor. Dust and dirt coated the floor to a depth of about two inches.

 

While Dark PassengersJulia and Cruz descended to the Stygian basement of the Women’s Ward Pavilion, your webmaster struck off on his own and ventured upstairs to the Fourth Floor, where my quarry was the supposedly gorgeous terra cotta murals were still supposed to cast their benevolent eyes on the surrounding Staten Island countryside. But several tolls would have to be paid before such a view was to be vouchsafed to us.

Above, the main corridor of the pavilion.

 

Entities much more hostile than we benevolent explorers had preceded us. Danger is your constant companion when traveling through these realms.

 

Is that a skull’s visage peering at us with unblinking eyes from the Lovecraftian pavilion seen through the center window? It’s wise to not take too close a look at what you find here.

 

During the night, legions of bats and even more unwholesome denizens launch themselves from these parapets. During the day, the windows serve as the lookout toward Latourette Park and Richmondtown.

 

There used to be nutritious meals prepared here, but these days the pantry produces asbestosis, mesothelioma and tetanus. If you’re not careful.

 

Tripping the detritus of decades can be just a bit hazardous. We found that the floorboards under the dust in the center of the picture seemed to be collapsing, and the next trip there could have been our final one.

 

From the Preservation Society of Staten Island:

Architect Raymond F. Almirall of NYC designed the buildings and the terra cotta ornament. This ceramic work was produced in Delft, Holland by the Joost Thooft & Labouchere Company. They have been in continuous operation since the 1750s. The design is a brilliantly colored series of ceramic murals and reliefs with gold square tiles, garlands, crests and seashells.

Almost life-size figures of children, nurses and physicians are repeated on each building. There are four distinct groups of figures along with a series of iconographic shields.

(I recognized shields corresponding to the USA, Holland and possibly Japan)

Also from the Preservation Society:

The ceramic ornament is protected by the eave overhang in all locations, and follows the perimeter (roughly 400 feet) on each building. At one end, an open 12 ft. sleeping porch extends on each side, connected to a projecting octagonal bay. These porches were enclosed with windows and roofed over in the 1930s. The murals located in the areas of these porches were obscured from view, except from the interior.

Pieces have cracked from water entry and freezing, and where concrete reinforcing has rusted, pieces have broken loose. Accessible locations on the “porch” south-half of each building make the frieze work subject to vandalism.

During the 1970s the price of copper rose dramatically. Construction tradesmen and demolition people salvaged copper everywhere including the flashing, downspouts, soffits, and enclosures of the solarium porches on these four buildings. As a result, water enters at the roof perimeter, floods down walls, and has caused deterioration to the roof and the building interiors. The terra cotta friezework on the sleeping porches has suffered from this condition.

Though the artwork was conceived in the most beneficial manner possible in the early 1900s, some of the images seem bizarre to us now. Starting at left, a doctor leads a blindfolded young patient; a nonchalant doctor assists a distraught girl; a nurse accompanies a knickered young man with his arm in a sling; and another nurse carries a baby.

Many of these terra cotta designs were cut in half when the hospital put in enclosed porches in the 1930s.

 

Forgotten Fans and Dark Passengers Julia and Cruz pose at a terracotta mural. Photography here was not easy. Cruz stood in a rusty locker and Julia hunched over rather than be konked in the head by another locker.

Anyone exploring this ruin should take EXTREME caution. Broken glass and 25 years of rust are everywhere. Obtain a tetanus shot before planning any infiltration here because you don’t want to trip, fall, cut yourself and be subject to infection.

I don’t know how much asbestos is in the air here.Assume there is some.

You are also on private property. Cooperate with hospital security guards if you are seen.

3/10/2000

 

 





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4 Responses to HOSPITAL OF THE DAMNED

  1. Fran Jener says:

    I just looked over your article on Seaview. I was wondering if you know what happened to the Discarded Medical Records and X-Rays you saw on the floor of the corridor. Do you think maybe someone may have got them to give to a historical society? My aunt’s brother was there in 1940. Does anyone know the history of this place-when it closed, what happened to the patients, etc.

  2. Eugene Mandel says:

    Shortly after my graduation in 1947 from NYU College of Dentistry, I was one of two dental interns for about 6 months in 1948 at Seaview Hospital. Here are a few of the things I remember clearly about this experience.
    It was a very big facility both physically and in the number of patients- the largest TB hospital in the U.S. Most of the patients were African-Americans. The location seemed very remote; to get there from Manhattan involved a ride on the Staten Island Ferry followed by one or two bus rides. There were several visiting physicians there from abroad; I became friendly with an ENT specialist from Czechoslovakia and a chest surgeon from Israel. The risk of contracting TB was real, so that I had to wear gloves and a mask when treating patients. While I was there, the chief surgical resident contracted TB. As a dental internship, it left much to be desired, as the attending dental staff was almost non-existent. One learned from his own experience. Nevertheless, it was a worthwhile experience for a new dental graduate.

  3. Anita Tyrrell says:

    My grandfather, who immigrated from Greece at age 15, died here at age 28 in 1915. My mother, Octavia, was only 18 months old and her older sister, Eleanora was not quite 4. My grandmother was
    a widow at age 25 with 2 young children. I am glad that the hospital, though decaying, still stands. It is a sad remembrance of what was, but will never be again, thanks to medical advances. He died of Tuberculosis, curable now.

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