An interactive map of Beth Israel historical locations is available here. See the Building Beth Israel series for more information about the history of MSBI.
The 1950s ushered in an era of rapid construction and growth for Beth Israel Hospital that would last for nearly two decades. The footprint of the Hospital during this time rapidly expanded and a number of new buildings were erected to accommodate the hospital’s growing services.
This began in 1952, when the cornerstone was laid for the Charles H. Silver Clinic at Beth Israel Hospital. The building, which was created as an outpatient clinic, would open the following year. According to the Board of Trustees minutes, it was named for Charles H. Silver because “[h]is labors, his vision, and the inspiration he has given to his colleagues have been a major contribution to the development of this great institution so that it holds a ranking position as a haven of healing, a sanctuary of science, a temple of the art of medicine.” (The Archives have additional images of Silver online here.)
On March 26, 1954, Nathan D. Perlman Place was dedicated as a tribute to the memory of the former Beth Israel Hospital Vice President, who had also served as a member of Congress. (The street was formerly named Livingston Place.)
The cornerstone was laid for a residence for Beth Israel School of Nursing students on East 16th Street on September 9, 1958. (At this time, the School of Nursing was located in the Dazian Pavilion, and the location of the new building was previously a parking lot.) At its opening, it was called Fierman Hall. Attendees of the ceremony included Senator Jacob Javits and Governor Averill Harriman, the latter of whom used it as an opportunity to criticize Senator Javits for the lack of funding by the federal government for college student housing. Mayor Robert Wagner, then-gubernatorial candidate Nelson Rockefeller, and Gustave Levy (in his capacity as the President of the Jewish Federation of Philanthropies) were also in attendance. When the building opened on September 25, 1960, there was space for 154 student nurses.
Fierman Hall’s location on East 16th Street was short-lived. Due to swelling class sizes, the space was no longer adequate for the growing School of Nursing. In 1965 alone, the incoming class size almost doubled to a hundred new students, up from sixty, and the School was recruiting six new faculty members. A new student residence, also named Fierman Hall, was dedicated at 317 East 17th Street on September 18, 1966. Senator Javits once again attended the ceremony. The new Fierman Hall on East 17th Street housed between 260 and 300 nurses (sources conflict on this number), as well as classrooms and lecture halls. Together, this allowed for an increase in class size. The first Fierman Hall on East 16th Street was renamed the Karpas Pavilion and it was repurposed for patient care.
The expansion of Beth Israel Hospital did not end there. By the end of the 1960s, the campus would grow to include the Linsky Pavilion, the Bernstein Pavilion, Baird Hall, and Gilman Hall. The history of these buildings will be featured in an upcoming post.
The final years at Beth Israel Hospital’s Jefferson and Cherry Streets location were marked by some of the most defining moments of the early twentieth century. While it’s not clear exactly when conversations in favor of a new hospital began, the Beth Israel Board of Directors began to purchase property on Livingston Place along Stuyvesant Square Park as early as 1915. (Livingston Place would later be renamed Nathan D. Perlman Place after the U.S. Congressman and Beth Israel Vice President.)
A primary motivation for the creation of what would become the Dazian Pavillion was likely related to hospital capacity – the thirteen-story building opened with nearly 500 private rooms and state-of-the-art facilities, a significant expansion over the 134 beds in wards at the Jefferson and Cherry Streets location. That said, justifications for the new building from the Board of Directors evolved from its earliest phases and its final construction in 1929. These reflect the many historical events of the era: modernization of health care, the introduction of the skyscraper, World War I and its aftermath, mass immigration, and the Influenza Epidemic of 1918.
The Tallest Hospital Building in the World
The Dazian Pavillion was conceived as a highly modern, state-of-the-art hospital building. At thirteen stories, it was the tallest hospital building in the world at that time. According to Islands of Compassion, Beth Israel “was the first to realize that a hospital skyscraper would mean freedom from the city’s noise and congestion.” This is evident in the discussions in the Board of Directors minutes. From March 16th, 1919:
It is of great concern to us to construct the new hospital according to the best methods of building; to provide the patients with as much comfort as possible, to serve them with palatable food, to provide them with fresh air and sunshine, to guard them from undue noise and excitement, and to keep the patient away from the smell and the workings of the Hospital – in a word, we are studying how best to care for the patient…The hospital of the future must be organized for prevention and not so much for cure.
World War I and its Aftermath
World War I was strongly felt at Beth Israel Hospital, with nearly half of the medical staff enlisted in the war effort. This continued throughout the war and beyond its end, and care for veterans presented itself as an early justification for a new hospital building. From the November 18, 1917 Board of Directors minutes:
The War presents the strongest argument for the construction of the new building. The War will last for some time and it is absolutely certain that there will be a great demand for hospital accommodation especially on account of the draft; deformities and disabilities are being discovered which require doctoring and good hospital care. The Beth Israel Hospital will be the only institution in the City to come up to expectations. We must be ready to receive cases on account of the epidemic that will surely follow the War and the new Hospital should stand as a permanent monument.
Beth Israel’s service to those affected by the war did not end with veterans. From the Board of Directors Minutes, October 17, 1920:
Congressman Siegel informed me that there are 200,000 Jews trying to secure passports for the United States. Orthodox Jews from Syria and Greece will come here in large numbers. That there are 15,000 Jews at Danzig awaiting transportation. If there is any doubt at all in the minds of anyone as to the necessity of a 500 bed Beth Israel Hospital for the treatment of Orthodox Jews this statement of Congressman Siegel should dispel them.
If Beth Israel was founded to care for Jewish immigrants in New York, the events following World War I only strengthened this resolve.
Influenza Pandemic of 1918
The Influenza Pandemic of 1918 was also a justification for the layout of the new building. The need for private rooms was a strong topic of debate in the years leading up to construction, within both the Board of Directors and the medical profession, considering hospitals largely operated out of shared wards at this time. The pandemic cemented the need for private rooms. From the Board of Directors Minutes, November 23, 1919:
…in respiratory infections…protection can only be obtained by safe-guarding one person from another, that the lesson derived from the severe experience of the recent Pneumonia epidemic is to the effect that such patients are not to be assembled into larged [sic] groups or kept in open wards but should be kept in separate rooms where they and their attendants may be preserved as far as possible from sputum droplet contamination.
Ultimately, the Dazian Pavillion took more than a decade to come to fruition. While many of the buildings and lots for the future space were purchased throughout the 1910s, there was significant slowdown in building progress due to the influenza epidemic. Building materials were also more expensive due to World War I.
On November 5, 1922 the cornerstone was laid. The ground was broken by Isaac Phillips, and future President Herbert Hoover, then U.S. Secretary of Commerce, were in attendance. The architect for the Dazian building was Louis Allen Abramson.
The building was finally opened in 1929. The Beth Israel Hospital School of Nursing (today the Phillips School of Nursing at Mount Sinai Beth Israel) moved into the 6th and 9th floors. Nearly 100 years after construction began, Dazian continues to be the home of Mount Sinai Beth Israel today.
For much of the 1890s, the first decade of its existence, the location of Beth Israel Hospital was a moving target. The hospital moved from a factory loft, to an “old-fashioned parlor floor,” to two different rented hospital facilities. In its final locations during this period, split between buildings at 206 East Broadway and 195 Division Street, Beth Israel Hospital was financially solvent for the first time, enabling it to finally buy land of its own. In 1896, Beth Israel purchased a plot of land at Jefferson and Cherry Streets for the construction of a new hospital building.
In 1899, the Beth Israel Board of Directors chose a design for the new hospital. The cornerstone of the building was laid on April 1, 1900.
Much of the early funding for the new location was put up by Beth Israel’s Board of Directors, which, in addition to a mortgage, allowed for the purchase of the lot. However, the cost for the chosen design was well above initial expectations, and the final estimate was around $200,000 (about $6.5 million in 2021 dollars), requiring a significant fundraising effort.
On May 26, 1902, the new Beth Israel Hospital at Jefferson and Cherry Streets was dedicated. It included 134 beds, with male, female, and maternity wards as well as private rooms. It featured a solarium, a common feature for hospitals at that time, in addition to outdoor space on the roof for staff and patient use. The Beth Israel Hospital Training School for Nurses was founded in 1904 and moved into this building. (Today, it is the Phillips School of Nursing at Mount Sinai Beth Israel.)
By August 1912, a physiological chemistry laboratory opened at Beth Israel under the direction of Max Kahn, PhD. The laboratory was located on the top floor and could comfortably hold five people. Additionally, after extensive delays, a children’s ward opened in January 1919, but it was forced to close six months later because of the nursing shortage caused by the Influenza Epidemic of 1918. Both the children’s and maternity wards were closed and re-opened periodically, based on available financial and staff support.
As early as 1915, the Beth Israel Board of Directors began to purchase property on Livingston Place along Stuyvesant Square Park. Plans to move to this new location were delayed first by World War I, and then by the influenza epidemic. Construction began in earnest in 1922, and Beth Israel finally moved to its current location in the Dazian Pavillion in 1929, giving up the Jefferson and Cherry Streets location. While it wasn’t the Hospital’s final location, Jefferson and Cherry Streets is where Beth Israel Hospital came of age and began to resemble the hospital of today.
Authored by Stefana Breitwieser, Digital Archivist
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.
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 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.
As we wrap up our 2023 Digitization Project Grant, we are pleased to share a final batch of newly digitized materials – a selection of textual records from the Beth Israel Medical Center alphabetical files, including over 80 World War I letters.
The Beth Israel Medical Center alphabetical files represent a miscellaneous assortment of textual records from throughout the hospital’s history. Each file provides a small insight into one aspect of its organization, which taken together provide a rich material history of the institution. The selection chosen for digitization emphasized materials through the completion of the campus in 1969, and provides insight into the hospital’s management, campus planning, and newsworthy happenings.
Like the annual reports and Board of Trustees minutes, organizational and management records in this selection provide insight into the day-to-day decision-making at Beth Israel for things large and small. The digitized material includes the Rules and Regulations of the Beth Israel Dispensary (1907), excerpts of minutes from the Phillips School of Nursing (1905-1912), minutes from department head meetings (1931-1935), by-laws of the Beth Israel Hospital Association (1947-1960), and directories for the house staff and visiting staff (1950s-1960s).
Campus planning is also a major theme in these materials. From Dazian Pavilion (construction started 1922) to planning for the Linsky Pavilion (opened 1966) these materials closely track the progress, reasoning, and decision-making surrounding the evolution of Beth Israels footprint in the Lower East Side. Of note are a group of articles written by Louis J. Frank, Beth Israel Hospital Superintendent, which describe a range of his theories on hospital management at the time of the construction of the Dazian Pavilion. Topics range from medical humanitarianism to facility planning, from European hospital design to vegetarian hospital food services.
Newspaper clippings (bulk 1909-1933) and press releases (1967-1968) also make up a significant amount of material and would be helpful to anyone interested in events at Beth Israel during those years.
You can browse all the alphabetical files digitized as part of this project here. (Note that some clippings and articles by Frank are still under copyright. The materials will become available as soon as they reach public domain, largely on January 1, 2024.)
World War I letters
Included in the alphabetical files are three years’ worth of World War I letters (1917-1919) to and from Louis J. Frank. The correspondents are largely Beth Israel doctors deployed to military hospitals on the front lines in France.
Major topics include daily life of those serving in the war, surgery during battle (particularly limb salvage and amputation), x-ray training for military doctors, and reactions to the Armistice. News of Beth Israel is also frequent, particularly medical and nursing staff shortages, the needs of future and current military patients, accounts of various Beth Israel doctors at home and abroad, and the status of the new Beth Israel hospital building (future Dazian Pavilion). The Influenza Epidemic of 1918 is mentioned throughout, and there are also several references to the Mount Sinai Hospital unit.
These letters are a valuable resource to anyone interested in the role of American doctors serving in World War I. You can browse the letters here.