Building Beth Israel, Part 1: Foundations

The first meeting related to the founding of Beth Israel Hospital was held on December 1, 1889 at 165 East Broadway. Healthcare was greatly needed in New York’s Lower East Side, whose residents, largely recent Jewish immigrants, were affected by poverty, close living quarters, and dangerous working conditions. From a 1901 essay on early Beth Israel history 

“The origin of the idea of this institution sprang from the poor themselves. So urgent was the need for such a local hospital, that in spite of the lack of support, and even of the discouragement of those in position to assume such a task, the poor themselves, by taxing their hard earned [sic] wages, gained by the sweat of their brows, established the association and undertook to support the Hospital…It serves to demonstrate the noble Jewish heart. These workingmen when they could earn their bread and butter were willing to contribute their 25 cents a month to help their neighbors in distress.”  

In the face of “meagre [sic] and uncertain support,” the founders first endeavored to begin a dispensary, rather than a full-scale hospital, and in May 1890, rented a loft in a factory on Birmingham Street. (This street no longer exists, but today would be between Henry Street and Madison Street, just underneath the Manhattan Bridge.) The building was described as “most unsuitable and the accommodations about as poor as can be imagined” but still attracted more patients than could be treated, speaking to the great need for medical care in this neighborhood at the time. 

Screenshot of a map of the Lower East Side, New York, with pins at each of the Beth Israel locations

Click here for an interactive map of Beth Israel historical locations

After two months at the Birmingham Street location, the Beth Israel outpatient dispensary moved to 97 Henry Street in July 1890. Described as an “old-fashioned parlor floor,” it was “much better situated” and the dispensary remained there for ten months.  

Sketch of four-story brownstone with a sign that says "Beth Israel Hospital" above the door.

Sketch of the 206 E Broadway location of Beth Israel Hospital, circa 1892-1902.

In May 1891, Beth Israel moved to 196 East Broadway. With twenty beds, this is the first Beth Israel location to include inpatient services in addition to the outpatient dispensary. The hospital includes two house staff: Abraham Hymanson, MD, is the first House Physician, and Wolfgang Kaplan, MD is Assistant House Physician. 

Embroiled in a financial crisis, Beth Israel moves again in May 1892, splitting their services across buildings at 206 East Broadway and 195 Division Street. With lower rent and more space, including thirty-four beds, Beth Israel was financially solvent for the first time. The Division Street building was renovated one floor at a time for inpatient and outpatient use.  

Beth Israel Hospital remained in this location for over a decade, before moving to its location at Jefferson and Cherry Streets in 1902, and finally its current location at the Dazian Pavillion in Stuyvesant Square in 1929. The history of both of these Beth Israel Hospital locations will be addressed in future posts. 

 

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Mount Sinai’s Missing Streets

The Upper East Side home of The Mount Sinai Hospital and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai spans continuously from 101st St down to 98th Street, with other buildings arrayed nearby. To achieve this continuous campus, what had once been 99th and 100th Streets between Madison and Fifth Avenues have disappeared. How and when did that happen?

View along 100th St., around 1937

The Mount Sinai Hospital moved to 100th Street in 1904, taking up the whole block between the avenues and up to 101st Street. In 1911, the Hospital started buying lots on the south side of 100th Street in anticipation of a large expansion program. By 1921, those new buildings stretched from Fifth Avenue across but not quite to the end of 100th Street. The street was used for physician parking, and in December 1949, New York City deeded the bed of 100th Street to Mount Sinai. It continued as parking for a few more decades, but with the construction of the Guggenheim Pavilion starting in 1986, the street disappeared into a plaza between the original buildings and the new.

The story on 99th Street is very similar: Mount Sinai had expanded to having buildings spread along the northern side of the block. At the end of the 1950s, when construction of the Klingenstein Clinical Center (KCC), fronting onto the corner of Madison and 99th Street, was being planned, Mount Sinai sought the help of the City, and in August 1958, the road bed of 99th Street was deeded to Mount Sinai.

And what about the former streets? Once the construction on KCC was finished, this area became known as the Hospital Gardens, and graduation ceremonies for our School of Nursing, as well as special events were held out there. The plaza across 100th Street was covered in bricks, and a large sculpture called La Sfera Grande by Arnaldo Pomodoro was placed there in 1974. In the late 1960s, all of the buildings along the former southern side of 100th Street and the northern side of 99th Street were torn down to make way for the Annenberg Building. The Gardens became Ross Park, and today the Sfera Grande sits adjacent to the Nathan Cummings Atrium in the Guggenheim Pavilion. This is only appropriate since Mr. Cummings had originally given Mount Sinai the sculpture.

Nursing School graduation in the ‘Gardens’ in 1961. Note that KCC is being built in the back left of the image.

Giving Birth to an Obstetrical Service

On August 27th, it will be 165 years since the first baby was born at The Mount Sinai Hospital in 1856. The mother was a Mrs. Lichtenstein. She named the baby Isaac Touro, in honor of a Hospital benefactor, Judah Touro (1775-1854), who had helped support the young Jews’ Hospital in New York, as Mount Sinai was then known. (Judah Touro also gave money for the founding of Touro Infirmary in New Orleans and today’s Touro College and University System is named for Judah and his father Isaac.)

Isaac Touro Lichtenstein was one of two babies born in the Hospital during its first year of operation. Until the 1920s, most babies were born at home or in one of the specialized women and child care hospitals around the City. This meant that many general hospitals, including Mount Sinai, never felt the need to add a formal obstetrical service to their offerings, thus limiting the number of babies born at the hospital over the years.

By the 1920s, as hospital births began to rise around the country, the Mount Sinai medical staff started to talk to the Board of Trustees about adding obstetrics. As the doctors saw it, the problems arising from not having babies born at the Hospital were: the Gynecology staff could not admit their obstetrical patients to Mount Sinai; there was no obstetrical training for the GYN residents, nor was there training for the pediatrics residents in newborn care. The last also applied to The Mount Sinai Hospital School of Nursing, which affiliated with the Sloane Hospital for Women so students could fill the gap in their education.

While the Trustees were increasingly sympathetic with the request to add an obstetrical service, it wasn’t until the middle of the 1940s that concrete plans were made for the erection of a new building to house obstetrics and gynecology, today’s Klingenstein Pavilion on Fifth Avenue. Every new building demands a fundraising campaign to make it a reality. Mount Sinai had just finished a major expansion that ended in 1922, with the addition of a new School of Nursing building and a semi-private pavilion seen as the next priorities. When these two buildings opened, the Depression was in full swing, which sapped Hospital and potential donor resources. This was followed quickly by World War II, but by the mid-1940s, the Hospital could see a window of opportunity on the horizon.

A fundraising campaign was begun when the war ended and on July 22, 1948, ground was broken for three buildings: the Klingenstein Pavilion, and the Atran and Berg Laboratories. In 1952, the obstetrical service started to operate as the building slowly opened. July marked the start of Mount Sinai’s first Prenatal Clinic, and the first prenatal clinic for women with diabetes in New York City started in the fall. The first OB patients were admitted in October, with the first baby born October 29, 1952 – 96 years after Isaac Touro Lichtenstein.