This post is part of the Looking Up series, which explores the unique architectural and historical stories that can be discovered when we raise our gaze above the sidewalk, the storefront, and the second floor.
Adjacent to the Ottendorfer branch of the New York Public Library on 2nd Avenue north of St. Mark’s Place is the Stuyvesant Polyclinic building. This neo-Italian Renaissance brick building was designed by German-born architect William Schickel for Anna and Oswald Ottendorfer, philanthropists who focused on the well-being of the German immigrant community of the East Village/Lower East Side in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Oswald Ottendorfer was the owner of the New-Yorker Staats-Zeitung, a large New York City German-language newspaper. Built in 1883-1884 and originally called the German Dispensary (‘dispensaries’ were the community health clinics of their time), it offered medical care to the poor at low or free rates.
If you take a look above the first floor, you’ll see a variety of molded terra cotta faces looking down on you. The ornate portico holds the busts of Hippocrates as well as Asklepius, the Greek god of medicine, Celsius, Roman medical text author, and Galen, a Greek physician.
Running just below the roofline are busts that include William Harvey, an English physiologist; noted botanist Carl von Linne (Carl Linnaeus), Alexander von Humboldt, German scientist and explorer; Antoine Lavoisier, French chemist and physicist; and Christoph Hufeland, a German physician.
By 1905 the German Dispensary relocated to the Upper East Side and sold the building to another German-community-focused health service, the German Poliklinik. With anti-German sentiment running high during World War I, the Poliklinik changed its name to The Stuyvesant Polyclinic.
The New York Times noted that “By the 1960s the Germans had been replaced by a younger, quite different generation. Dr. Arnold Bernstein, the institution’s chief psychologist, told [The Times] in 1961 that he treated actors, poets, painters and writers, for up to $1.50 per visit. Most of “these infantile, immature personalities,” the doctor said, have “a very sincere desire to do something useful and creative.”
The building was designated a New York City Landmark on November 9, 1976, and in 2008 it underwent a renovation for its new commercial tenant.
To learn more about the history of the building – including photos and the Landmarks Preservation Commission designation report, visit GVSHP’s Stuyvesant Polyclinic page.
View more close-ups of the busts here.
You can read more about the East Village/Lower East Side German immigrant community of Kleindeutschland in previous Off the Grid Posts here.