at complex looms tall over Upper West Side skyline when viewed from the
resevoir at 90th Street and Fifth Avenue
Carter B. Horsley
years of neglect,
this impressive, landmark property that was originally the New
York Cancer Hospital was being converted to 100 condominum apartments
in the original building and a new, adjacent tower in 2004.
buildings have been converted into 19 apartments, many with circular
living rooms 37 feet in diameter and dramatically tall windows
overlooking Central Park. The development's very handsome, red-brick
26-story tower will have 81 apartments, many with corner bay windows.
architects for the conversion
are RTKB Architects, Perkins Eastman Architects and Victor Caliandro.
The original structures at 106th Street were built in 1886 and
designed by Charles C. Haight. For many years, they were occupied
by the Towers Nursing Home.
their excellent book,
"The A.I.A. Guide to New York City, Fourth Edition"
(Three Rivers Press, 2000), Norval White and Elliot Willensky
note that "this castellated emigré from the Loire
Valley has charmed the Upper West Side for more than a century."
original buildings with their turrets remain
the most visible landmark
in the area known as the Manhattan Valley, which is south of St.
John The Divine Cathedral and Columbia University, which are not
too far away.
The old and
the new at the complex
Streetscapes/Central Park West
and 106th Streets; In the 1880's, the Nation's First Cancer Hospital
By CHRISTOPHER GRAY
Published: December 28, 2003
In his "Streetscapes" column in
The New York Times December 28, 2003 Christopher Gray
provided the following commentary about this site:
"THE 1887-90 New York Cancer
Hospital on Central Park West between
105th and 106th Streets has sat unused for three decades. But
a 26-story condominium tower being completed at the rear of the
property has given new life to the landmark structure, which is
itself being renovated as part of the project into large and expensive
"In the summer of 1884, former
S. Grant developed throat cancer. He lived in a brownstone at
3 East 66th Street, and his ensuing decline, and his death the
next year, caught the attention of the nation. Although his cancer
was inoperable, others were more fortunate, since the development
of anesthesia in the mid-19th century had finally given doctors
a surgical treatment for cancer.
"In the year of Grant's
diagnosis, John Jacob
Astor, Thomas A. Emmet, Joseph W. Drexel and other prominent New
Yorkers laid the cornerstone for the New York Cancer Hospital,
the first hospital in the United States specifically for cancer
treatment. Designed by Charles C. Haight and completed in 1887,
the first portion of the hospital, designated solely for women,
was at the southwest corner of 106th and Central Park West.
"At the dedication, Grant's
Barker, said that cancer was 'not due to misery, to poverty,
or bad sanitary surroundings, or to ignorance or to bad habits,
but a disease afflicting the cultured, the wealthy and the inhabitants
of salubrious localities.'
"In 1890 the hospital was
expanded south, and
in both sections Haight designed circular wards, about 40 feet
in diameter, in part to facilitate better observation by a nurse
at a central desk and in part because the design offered more
space between the heads of the beds - but mostly because
were thought to harbor germs.
"Ventilation was a key concern,
so a duct ran
up the centers of the wards to remove what The New York Tribune
said were the 'intense odors' caused by the disease.
"Haight worked the round wards
into the exterior
architecture, which he executed in deep red brick and soft brown
Belleville brownstone, with great conical towers irregularly placed
on the three fronts. The big, broad towers gave the hospital
character of a French chateau, like the one at Chambord in the
Loire Valley, and made it one of the most important pieces of
institutional architecture in New York. The Tribune said
much more readily be taken for an art museum than for a hospital. In an
1899 issue of The Architectural Record,
the critic Montgomery Schuyler criticized the asymmetry of the
Central Park West front and the 'degenerate English Gothic'
detail, despite the design's superficially French character. But
he concluded that the hospital was 'an eminently successful work.'''
Mr. Gray noted that "The 20th
century brought new techniques in
cancer treatment, including radiation." In 1921, Marie Curie visited
the facility that had been renamed the General Memorial Hospital and
later the Memorial Hospital for the Treatment of Cancer and Allied
Diseases "to see the
steel vault where the hospital kept its four grams of radium -
at the time the largest accumulation in the world, according to
The New York Times. Dr. Edward H. Rogers, who was escorting
assured The Times that 'there is no case on record of anyone
being injured in health by radium.' He denied that Curie had
been harmed by the radioactive material, saying she had been ill
recently only from anemia. In this period the hazards of radium
were beginning to emerge, sparking defensive claims by its proponents.
She died in 1934 because of radium poisoning."
"The nursing home closed in
1974; in 1976, the
building was designated by the Landmarks Preservation Commission,
but it has been vacant for three decades. Over the years, several
developers tried and
failed to revive it. But now the MCL Companies, a Chicago-based
developer, is finishing a residential condominium tower in the
courtyard behind the original building, a project that includes
a renovation of the former hospital into 17 condominium
apartments. Designed by two architectural firms, RKT&B
and Perkins Eastman, the new 455 Central Park West has apartments
of up to four bedrooms. Units in the tower went on the market
this month at prices ranging from $1.35 million to $4.5
million. In the old hospital building, a typical unit
will have a living room about 38 feet in diameter created from
an old circular ward. Completion of these units is scheduled for
next summer, with prices expected to range from $3.5 million to
It is remarkable that the wonderful turrets
survived so long without being occupied and it is very nice that the
tower that now adjoins them is quite contextual and attractive.
One of the reasons that the site was unused for so long is
that this part of the Upper West Side was not considered chic.