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Bellevue Hospital, NYC

Foundations of America

QU201 Prof. Scott Leone

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Bellevue Hospital, NYC

Bellevue Hospital

By: Holly DeBartolo

Bellevue Hospital, most famously known as "America’s oldest public hospital" was founded March 31, 1736, located on First Avenue in the Kips Bay neighborhood of Manhattan, New York. The construction of a "Public Workhouse and House of Correction" begun in 1735 to house "vagabonds and idle beggars", for the purpose of correcting social problems in society; the upper floor, only about 25 by 23 feet in dimension, was used as an infirmary. The original building contained only six beds in the infirmary, but also included areas for hard labor, instruction in sewing, knitting, spinning, weaving and working in leather and iron (Magazine)

.Bellevue Childrens Ward

Throughout history, Bellevue Hospital has been a triage center during natural disasters. Dating all the way back to September, 1776, when a large number of destitute persons were admitted after a devastating fire. Severe epidemics such as yellow fever, 1794-1805, and typhus fever, in the early 19th century, caused a considerable amount of Bellevue staff to be occupied in burying the dead in one of the first American hospital cemeteries, created in 1757.


Because of political mishandling and the lack of efficiency in the government, the hospital went through an extreme hardship, in the early 19th century. Bellevue went to shambles, many of their loyal employees deserted, nurses would simply leave the sick to fend for themselves, conditions were deplorable, supplies were insufficient, little food was available and many patients simply waited to die in blankets of their own filth. Finally, by mid-century, commissioners worked diligently to improve the state of the hospital. Their main goal was to "free the hospital of the burdens of also being a penal institution" (Magazine). The mortality rate decreased, the hospital board was then comprised of distinguished physicians and surgeons and the role of medical education became Bellevue’s claim to fame.

Bellevue also holds the title for having the first ambulance service. "Each ambulance shall have a box beneath the driver’s seat, containing a quart flask of brandy, two tourniquets, a half-dozen bandages, a half-dozen small sponges, some splint material, pieces of old blankets for padding, strips of various lengths with buckles, and a two-ounce vial of persulphate of iron." The Abbott-Downing Company constructed two ambulances in June 1869. The service had such success that five more ambulances were added the following year.

 First Ambulance

One of the many architects that worked on the original Bellevue Hospital building were the Norcross Brothers who worked for McKim, Mead, and White, a prominent nineteenth century American construction company, who were especially skilled in working with stone, notably Stony Creek Granite. Bellevue Hospital is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The original project cost $35,050, the site drawings and plans unfortunately have been lost overtime.

"Under the spur of PWA and WPA grants, added to city appropriations, the old Bellevue, with its maze of mid-Victorian buildings of ominous gray, has given place to the group of eight-story structures of brick and stone with granite foundations. The firm of McKim, Mead, and White designed these new buildings with the exception of the Psychiatric Hospital; the architects of the latter were C. B. Meyers and Thompson, Holmes, and Converse. In February, 1938, the C & D Building was opened as a model unit for the treatment of pulmonary diseases. When the new Administration Building is erected, it will complete the group of seven great units making up the new Bellevue." (http://madeinatlantis.com/new_york/bellevue_hospital.htm)

James Atkinson and Orlando Whitney, the Norcross Brothers, are credited for being involved in designing over 650 projects while they worked with the architectural firms of H.H. Richardson and McKim, Mead & White (Wikipedia). Among the Norcross Brothers’ most famous accomplishments were the Trinity Church located in Boston, the Marshall Fields & Company building in Chicago, Illinois, and the Allegheny County Courthouse in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania (Wikipedia).

The Norcross Brothers primary building material of the time was stone which was provided by Stony Creek Quarry, located in Branford, Connecticut. According to the New York Historical Society "The original building was built around 1910 and had Stony Creek at the entrance veneer. It was also used on other buildings at the site and as ornaments on the fence piers. A lot of it was torn down over the years. They incorporated the old buildings ground floor entrance and enclosed it into an indoor walkway and pavilion in 1999. Stony Creek was used on the paving in the pavilion." Due to years of deterioration, renovations commenced in order to preserve Bellevue’s landmark exterior, "historic preservation and conservation were key elements and important design goals of the project" (according to the Preservation League of New York state).

Bellevue Hospital has undergone many changes and advancements over the years; most dramatic was the design of a new 210,000 square foot ambulatory-care pavilion and main entrance for First Avenue. The five story pavilion has a total of 270 exam rooms, the construction costing $84 million dollars, a huge advance from the six bed infirmary it started out as. Pei Cobb Freed architectural company’s renovations have won the hospital awards such as "Lighting Design Award of Merit", "Gold Award for Engineering Excellence" in 2006 and the "Award of Merit" from the New York Construction, Best of 2005. All impressive advancements, however, buildings such as Bellevue Hospital would not be what they are today, if not for the influence of early constructions companies like the Norcross Brothers, and the hospital would not stand without the use of Stony Creek granite.

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Last Updated on Friday, 05 November 2010 20:38  


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