By Carter B. Horsley
In October, 2007, St. Vincent's Hospital unveiled
its plans for a new hospital building to rise on the site of its
Edward and Theresa O'Toole Medical Services Building on the northwest
corner of Seventh Avenue and 12th Street and the plans of Rudin
Family Holdings to redevelop 8 of the hospital's buildings on
the western portion of the block bounded by 11th and 12th Streets
and Sixth and Seventh Avenues.
The proposed 21-story hospital building, which
has been designed by Ian Bader of Pei Cobb Freed & Partners,
would have a 4-story base and a setback curved tower. The tower
would be about 300 feet tall. Apart from its four-story base and
a setback near its top, the design of the new hospital building's
tower resembles in its elliptical lenticular shape with "cutting
edges" the famous "Boat Building" designed by Max
Abramovitz in 1963 for the Phoenix Mutual Life Insurance Company
in Hartford, Conn. Mr. Bader indicated that the new building would
be masonry- rather than glass-clad and probably of a reddish color.
Across the avenue, the residential development
would consist of a 21-story building on the avenue that would
be about 260 feet high including roof-top mechanical spaces and
19 townhouses with stoops on the two side-streets and one mid-block,
mid-rise building on 12th Street. Dan Kaplan of FXFowle is the
architect for the Rudin project.
In addition to these two sites, the hospital
owns the triangular block that used to be occupied by the Loew's
Sheridan movie theater just south of the O'Toole Building. That
block is now used by the hospital mostly as a "loading dock."
The hospital's planned tower and the shorter
residential tower on the avenue are configured to "open up"
vistas as the hospital's setback tower curves back from the avenue
and the residential building has an asymmetrical facade much of
which is slightly angled away from the avenue at its south end.
The planned buildings are in the Greenwich
Village Historic District, but the hospital has not yet submitted
a formal application for a certificate of appropriateness from
the Landmarks Preservation Commission. The proposed projects will
also require numerous other public approvals relating to zoning.
At the fall meeting in the hospital's auditorium,
William Rudin, the CEO of the Rudin organization, said that his
company has agreed to pay the hospital about $500 a buildable
square feet for its residential development, or about $300 million,
under the envisioned residential building plans that total about
625,000 square feet. The hospital's building is anticipated to
cost about $700 million. It will contain 365 beds, one to a room,
a substantial reduction from its present size of about 635 beds.
The plan calls for the demolition of the four-story
O'Toole Building, which was erected in 1961 and was designed by
Albert C. Ledner and is notable for its white-ceramic-tile facades
and its nautical motif. Once the new hospital is built and opened
on this site, eight of the hospital's 9 buildings across the avenue
will be demolished to make way for the Rudin's residential development.
In 1977, the hospital acquired the National
Maritime Union of America Building at 36 Seventh Avenue on the
northwest corner at Seventh Avenue, which had been designed by
Albert C. Ledner & Associates in 1964 and Ferrenz & Taylor
altered it for the hospital to become the Edward and Theresa O'Toole
Medical Services building.
In their great book, "The A. I. A. Guide
to New York City, Fourth Edition," (Three Rivers Press, 2000),
Elliot Willensky and Norval White describe it as a "huge
without precedent." Veneered
with small, white-glazed tesserae, its cantilevered form is unusual
in the city, joining such important modern cantilevered structures
as the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum by Frank Lloyd Wright and
the Whitney Museum of American Art by Marcel Breuer.
Two years after designing the O'Toole Building,
Ledner designed the National Maritime Union of America Joseph
Curran Annex at 346 West 17th Street between Eighth and Ninth
Avenues in Chelsea. In the third edition of the guide, authors
Willensky and White described the 17th Street building as "A
startingly white tile-faced, porthole-pierced front wall sloping
8 1/2 dress from vertical" which "was the architect's
way of meeting the setback requirements of the 1961 Zoning Resolution."
The O'Toole Building's oceanliner styling is
monumental and impressive and it is just as interesting and idiosyncratic
as Edward Durrell Stone's Huntington Hartford Museum of Art on
Columbus Circle that unfortunately is being completely remodeled
after years of neglect by the city into a new design museum (see
The City Review article). From a viewpoint
of architecture interest and curiosity the O'Toole building is
more unusual than the vast majority of structures in the Greenwich
Village Historic District and one of the very few in the city
that pays homage to the city's important waterfront history.
In his November 25, 2007 "Streetscapes"
column in The New York Times, Christopher Gray provides
the following commentary about Albert C. Ledner:
"The New Orleans architect Albert C.
Ledner's three offbeat creations for the National Maritime Union
came ashore in New York in the 1960s, their porthole facades impudent
in the face of doctrinaire modernism....In the 1950s, the National
Maritime Union, running at flank speed on the seas of the mid-American
century, began an ambitious program to build hiring halls, residences
and training centers for its members. The union hired Mr. Ledner,
then just a few years out of Tulane University. In 1958, when
the port of New York still had plenty of jobs, the Maritime Union
announced construction of a new headquarters on Seventh Avenue
from 12th to 13th Streets. Completed in 1964, the six-story structure
rests on two glass block cylinders - the hiring halls, with the
walls above rendered as scalloped overhangs, with porthole symbolism.
Two years later, the union finished an annex, at 346 West 17th
Street, Ledner's most dramatic work. Its 11 stories are dotted
with over 100 portholes and slope back 20 feet from the base.
When completed, the white tile facade burst out from its low-rise
tenement surroundings like a storm wave over the bow. A few years
afterward, Mr. Ledner devised a flanking wing for the annex....He
gave it portholes, too....Even in the permissive '60s, the implicit
humor of this unorthodox trio transgressed mightily against the
dead-serious modernism of the period." (11/27/07)
The hospital, which was created 149 years ago,
now serves as the only trauma center on the West Side from the
Battery to 59th Street and that that area is undergoing very significant
population growth that requires a 21st Century medical facility.
Like many hospitals in the
city, St. Vincent's has tried to expand and modernize on its existing
property and sadly has demolished some structures that were quite
attractive. Indeed, the hospital demolished
its very elegant and very handsome Georgian-style Elizabeth Bayley
Seton Building of Schickel & Ditmars on the northeast corner
of Seventh Avenue and 11th Street to make way for a new building
in 1987 known as the George Link Jr. Pavilion at 165 West 11th
Street, designed in Brutalist fashion by Ferrenz, Taylor, Clark
The Seton Building that was
demolished was certainly one of the most elegant and attractive
institutional structures in Greenwich Village and not all that
different from the very attractive Georgian-style buildings demolished
by the Mt. Sinai Hospital uptown. Several
It seems that not only health-care
institutions but educational institutions have no architecture
taste, to say nothing of preservationist spirit, based on most
buildings erected by New York University and Columbia University
since World War II. To be generous, their architectural record
One cannot be too much of a purist, however,
without taking account the very complex and very important functions
the health-care institutions provide the city. In some cases,
conceivably, preservation may have to take a back seat, not to
progress, but to necessity. Such an argument, however, is only
valid when it can be clearly demonstrated that preservation is
not a viable alterative.
The current administration of St. Vincent's
Hospital has gone to great lengths to make its development project
"transparent" and it deserves a lot of credit for holding
numerous public meetings in which it has taken pains to explain
how new government regulations require it to "downsize"
in bed count as well as to explain how current medical technology
is altering conventional wisdom about hospital care and operations.
The general gist of their discussions has been that hospitals
should focus on flexible and more efficient one-bed hospital rooms
and that more procedures should be ambulatory and not require
overnight or prolonged stays.
There have been remarkable and impressive new
techniques and technologies that demand a good degree of modernization
of facilities, but with Mayor Bloomberg stating that the city's
population will expand by one million between now and 2030 one
wonders whether dramatic reductions in the city's hospital bed
inventory is advisable.
Some community activists have been critical
of the hospital for failing to deliver on its promise of creating
attractive open space on the former site of the Loew's Sheridan
movie theater on the triangular block just to the south of the
Since the hospital has used the site only for
a loading dock and not a particularly beautiful one at that, it
is particularly galling that the movie theater was demolished
as it was one of the most important cultural facilities in Greenwich
Village. It was larger, of course, than the 8th Street and Art
movie theaters on Eighth Street which have long since perished
as has the Greenwich movie theater that was just across Greenwich
Avenue from the Sheridan. While it is a bit too late to bemoan
the outrageous destruction of almost all of the nation's wonderful
movie palaces that apparently were never step inside of by preservationists,
the use of a large triangular block to service trucks is not the
highest and best use of the property.
In 1987, the hospital also created its Materials
Handling Center to replace The Village Green that had replaced
the former Loew's Sheridan movie theater building, the largest
and most important in Greenwich Village and one whose marbled
1921 interior was immortalized in a famous painting by Edward
Hopper, shown above.
While it is understandable that the creation
of an attractive open space might be appealing for some, one needs
only proceed a couple of blocks in either direction along Greenwich
Avenue to come to some attractive and green open spaces.
One might have assumed that the triangular
shape of the Sheridan block might not be appropriate for a major,
new hospital building, but the new tower designed by Pei Freed
Cobb would almost seem to fit if turned and Mr. Bader emphasized
that its elliptical lenticular shape was very efficient for hospital
"beds" and nursing stations. That tower, of course,
rises atop a four-story base that occupies the full lot and that
would not fit neatly on the Sheridan block, but the Sheridan block
is not very small.
By switching the site for the new building,
one could preserve the O'Toole structure and conceivably adapt
much of its larger floor plates of the emergency rooms and the
like now planned for a new structure on the site and if necessary
create a tunnel under 12th street to a new building on the Sheridan
site or a skybridge over the street to link the two buildings.
If switching the sites and preserving the O'Toole
Building is not possible, perhaps an approach similar to what
Lord Norman Foster used for the Hearst Corporation on the southwest
corner of 57th Street and Eighth Avenue could be adapted that
would preserve the exterior of the O'Toole Building.
The logic behind the design of the curved Pei
Freed Cobb tower is not immediately apparent and supposedly was
based in part in related to its context and opening up views.
The tower's form is dramatic and a definite modern "incursion"
into the fabric of Greenwich Village, but not much less so than
Richard Meier's white modernist mid-rise apartment houses on West
Street or I. M. Pei's three towers at University Village south
of Washington Square Park. By maintaining the streetwalls at the
base, the building also tries to somewhat minimize its presence.
The south facade of the setback tower has a setback three floors
from the top, which is somewhat abrupt and detracts from its otherwise
rather pure and handsome form.
While it will be substantially higher than
surrounding buildings it is not significantly higher and that
issue is considerably muted when it is seen in the context of
the new apartment building planned by the Rudins on the Seventh
The residential component of the plan is superb
and extremely contextual and handsome.
While it shifts most of the existing bulk of
the hospital's buildings on the site to the avenue, it creates
handsome townhouse rows with stoops that carry on the tradition
of some of the Village's nicest blocks while replacing a hodge-podge
of mid-rise buildings that were rather bulky and ominous.
Furthermore, the articulation of the avenue
building is quite complex and strong.
Mr. Rudin said that although his company's
residential projects have always been rental, the more than 400
apartments will be built as condominiums. In addition to the 21-story
building on the avenue and 19 townhouses, the Rudin project includes
a mid-rise, mid-block building, 15,000-square feet of retail space,
22,500 square feet of medical office space and a garage.
None of the hospital's existing buildings east
of Seventh Avenue are particularly noteworthy architecturally
as can be seen from the illustrations below.
In answer to a question from the audience about
past promises from the hospital to create an attractive open space
on the triangle block, Mr. Bader also emphasized that plans call
for landscaping improvements to the "triangle" block.
The residential component planned by the Rudins
is exemplary in its execution and in its adherence to the city's
traditional "book-end" buildings on the avenues and
short buildings in the mid-block.
Andrew Berman, the executive director of the
Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, urged that
the hospital not to increase its "overall density, and said
his organization feels "strongly that the triangle bounded
by Greenwich Avenue, West 12th Street, and 7th Avenue should not
be built upon, and should serve as more of a public amenity and
green space than it currently does, and as had always been promised."
An article by Albert Amateau in the Dec.
27-Jan. 2 edition of The Villager reported that "Neighborhood
groups involved in the Greenwich Village Community Task Force
on the redevelopment of St. Vincents Hospital have drafted
an alternative to the current plan that would reduce the height
of the new hospital from the proposed 321 feet down to 190 feet."
"The community alternative, which is
not yet final," the article continued, "would also eliminate
the 230-foot-tall residential tower on the east side of Seventh
Ave. proposed by the Rudin Organization in partnership with the
"To accommodate the dramatic height
reduction proposed for the new hospital on St. Vincents
current OToole Building site on the west side of Seventh
Ave., the alternative," which was discussed at a December
19 community board task force meeting, "calls for any facilities
that cannot fit into a hospital of reduced size to be located
in a second, smaller hospital building on the east side of the
avenue. Rather than demolish all the hospitals current buildings
on the east side of the avenue for residential development, the
alternative draft calls for adapting four of the buildings for
residential reuse. The alternative plan considers those four buildings
Smith-Raskob, the Nurses Residence and the Reiss Pavilion
on W. 12th St. and the Spellman Pavilion on W. 11th St.
all 10-stories or more, to be historic," Mr. Amateau wrote.
An article by Albert Amateau in the February
22, 2008 edition of The Villager said that "St. Vincents
Hospital officials are drafting a response to the Community Alternative
Plan proposed last December to counter the St. Vincents/Rudin
Organization redevelopment plan for a new hospital on the west
side of Seventh Ave. and residential development on the east side
of the avenue."
"The Alternative Plan, proposed by
a coalition of neighborhood groups, including the Greenwich Village
Society for Historic Preservation, calls for a hospital no taller
than 190 feet, instead of the 329 feet medical center proposed
by St. Vincents, for the west side of Seventh Ave. The Alternative
Plan also calls for a combined residential/medical redevelopment
on the avenues east side that would convert eight existing
St. Vincents buildings to residential use, as well as construction
of a second new hospital building 14 stories or less to accommodate
medical facilities that could not fit in a smaller new hospital
across the avenuate," the article stated.
The article said that the Alternative Plan,
"which Andrew Berman, G.V.S.H.P. director, presented to hospital
officials and Community Board 2 members on Jan. 28, specifies
a second hospital building on the east side of Seventh Ave. connected
to the one on the west side by a 'current underground tunnel,'"
adding that "hospital officials told The Villager last week
that the state Department of Health, which has the final say on
hospital design, would not approve a new hospital complex that
would require patients to be brought down an elevator in one building
and taken up a second elevator in another building."
The article quoted Bernadette Kingham-Bez,
St. Vincents senior vice president for communications and
planning, that the tunnel under Seventh Ave., running between
hospital buildings on 12th St. on the east side of the avenue,
to the small building and loading dock in the triangle on the
west side, is used to move hospital material, equipment and waste
by hand carts and for storage, adding that the tunnel does not
connect under 12th St. to the OToole Building.
In any case, we could not transport
material and patients in the same tunnel; wed need a new
one, Kingham-Bez said. in the article.
The tunnel was built by the hospital with
a revocable permit from the city. Ms. Kingham-Bez told The Villager
that dual hospital buildings on both sides of the avenue would
present an insurmountable obstacle to phasing the change from
the old to the new facility. (2/23/08)
The Landmarks Preservation Commission held
a meeting April 1, 2008 to consider the appropriateness of the
plans of St. Vincent's Hospital to build a new hospital building
on the site of the nautically-styled O'Toole Building on the west
side of Seventh Avenue between 12th and 13th Streets, shown at
the right, and demolish nine of its existing buildings on the
east side of Seventh Avenue between 11th and 12th Streets.
The hospital wants to erect a new, 21-story, hospital building
designed by Pei Cobb Freed & Partners on the O'Toole site
and is selling Rudin Family Holdings the rights to develop about
500 housing units on its sites across the avenue. The Rudin plan,
designed by FXFowle, calls for a 21-story building on the avenue
that would be about 260 feet high and townhouses with stoops on
the two side-streets.
Expecting a huge turn-out from civic activists opposed to the
plans, the commission held the meeting in a 913-seat theater at
the Manhattan Community College at 199 West Street rather than
in its own small meeting room in the Municipal Building.
The hospital lies within the Greenwich Village Historic District
and the commission must rule on the appropriateness of the proposed
demolitions as well as the appropriateness of the designs for
A coalition of neighborhood organizations, including the Greenwich
Village Society for Historic Preservation, has proposed an "alternative"
plan that would lower the height of the proposed new hospital
building from about 330 feet to about 190 feet and calls for a
second new hospital building on the east side of the avenue that
might be connected to the one on the west side by a tunnel under
On February 20, 2008, Henry Amoroso, president and CEO of Saint
Vincent Catholic Medical Centers, wrote to Brad Hoylman, the chair
of Community Board 2, whose committee on the plans unanimously
voted in opposition to them, that the hospital had reviewed the
"alternative" plan and found that it "is not feasible
and lacks the tools necessary to ensure that this community has
proper healthy care infrastructure."
"The existing hospital assemblage
has so many significant
architectural, mechanical, and structural systems issues that
no amount of renovation work can satisfy the demands of 21st Century
healthcare," he wrote, adding that the alternative plan "divorces
inpatient beds from emergency, surgical, and imaging services,
violates health policy, would not receive Certificate of Need
approval from the New York State Department of Health, and would
cause a complete shutdown of hospital operations during demolition
Furthermore, the letter continued, the alternative plan "is
not a financially viable model" and "severable connections
under or over 7th Avenue and 12th Street are very risky and unattainable."
In addition, it also stated that the Smith and Raskob buildings
"cannot accommodate the latest medical technologies nor accommodate
the beds necessary to operate a hospital" and that "construction
phasing of the plan would cause a 2-3 year suspension of health
In today's edition of The New York Times, architecture critic
Nicolai Ouroussoff criticized as "most troubling" the
hospital's plan to tear down "the 1963 O'Toole Building,
one of the first buildings in the city to break with the Modernist
mainstream as it was congealing into formulaic dogma."
"Designed by the New Orleans architect Albert C. Ledner,
it is significant," Mr. Ouroussoff wrote, "both as a
both of architecture and as a repository o cultural memory. It
was built to house the National Maritime Union" and "its
glistening white facade and scalloped overhangs, boldly cantilevered
over the lower floors, were meant to conjure an ocean voyage
glass brick base, once the site of union halls, suggests an urban
.This is not simply a question of losing a building;
it's about masking those complexities and reducing New York history
to a caricature." (4/1/08)