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Many Layers of History at 7th Avenue and 12th Street: St. Vincent’s Hospital

St. Vincent’s Hospital

This piece is part of a series about Village blocks that correspond to calendar dates.  You can read some of the other ones here.

Another day, another date that corresponds to a Village intersection!  For many in the Village, 7th Avenue and 12th Street holds a strong place in their memories of the neighborhood: this was the location of the former St. Vincent’s Hospital.  In honor of today’s date, we’re taking a look at the hospital, its history, and what has been done to remember the site since.

St. Vincent’s Catholic Medical Center was a Village fixture for 161 years before its closing in 2010.  The hospital was founded in 1849 and was the third oldest hospital in New York City.  The hospital was one of the first institutions to address and treat HIV/AIDS, and became the epicenter of the AIDS epidemic.  It was also the primary admitting hospital for those injured in the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center.  Additionally, poet and notable Village resident Edna St. Vincent Millay received her middle name in honor of the hospital, which had saved the life of her uncle.  Since the building’s closure, it was sold in 2011 and many of its newer buildings demolished by 2013 (Village Preservation was able to at least successfully fight to preserve several of the older buildings and have them adaptively re-used, and reduce the size of the proposed condo development).  In its place, multi-million dollar condominiums now stand.

St. Vincent’s before and after. Image courtesy of http://nyc-mayor-2013.blogspot.com.

St. Vincent’s Hospital served a wide range of New Yorkers in its neighborhood of Greenwich Village, including poets, writers, artists, homeless people, the poor, and the working class.  It turned no one away.  Its emphasis was on patient-focused healthcare, with a special mission to provide care for the poor and disenfranchised. Its guiding principles were:

Respect: The basic dignity of the human person is the guiding principle in all our interactions, policies and procedures.
Integrity: Integrity is the consistency between the Catholic identity we profess and the ways in which we act it is that quality of truthfulness, which fosters trust.
Compassion: Compassion is the way we share deep concern, love and care toward each person.
Excellence: Excellence is our way of demonstrating that we can always be more, always be better

St. Vincent’s Project: Novenas for a Lost Hospital.  Photo by Marcus Middleton.

Recently, GVSHP partnered with Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, one of Greenwich Village’s most inventive and exciting producers of new works, along with several LGBT and community groups to produce a work called St. Vincent’s Project: Novenas for a Lost Hospital. The play/public art piece is inspired by those who dedicated their lives to care and those who were lost. Guided by the character of Elizabeth Seton, founder of the order of the Sisters of Charity, the piece theatrically explores the 161-year history of the hospital. This piece uses theater and public art as a vehicle to remember, to honor, and to celebrate the life and impact of St. Vincent’s Hospital in our neighborhood, our city, and the world.

An AIDS memorial will commemorate the epidemic near the site of the former St. Vincent’s Hospital.

The hospital site isn’t the only thing that changed at the intersection of 7th and 12th.  The area across from the former hospital, which used to be an associated building, went through its own transformation after St. Vincent’s closed, but this time becoming a monument to the hospital’s legacy in the fight against HIV/AIDS, as well as public green space. The AIDS Memorial at the St. Vincent’s Triangle Park was born of an effort founded in early 2011.  The design of the space was born of an international design competition launched in November 2011, chaired by Michael Arad, the designer of the National September 11 Memorial, to generate ideas for the memorial park design. Nearly 500 architects from around the world submitted designs. Studio ai of Brooklyn, NY, led by Mateo Paiva, Lily Lim and Esteban Erlich, won the competition to become the park’s architect. Their design features an 18-foot steel canopy as the dramatic gateway to the new St. Vincent’s Hospital Park in the West Village. The architects created an opportunity for engraving in the paver stones of the memorial, the text for which was selected and designed by world-renowned visual artist Jenny Holzer, and features selections from Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself. “ “Song of Myself” is included in Whitman’s work Leaves of Grass. It has been credited as “representing the core of Whitman’s poetic vision. The hope for the text of the memorial is that it will have “emotional permanence” with the idea that the poem will still move people hundreds of years from now.

St. Vincent’s Triangle Park

St. Vincent’s Triangle Park was designed in the tradition of the family of Village triangle parks at the request of Community Board 2.  A cozy, verdant haven in the middle of a busy intersection, the park serves as a lovely neighborhood respite.  The park melds nicely with the AIDS Memorial portion at the northwestern corner of the park, creating a place of rest and remembrance.  In 2017, Village Preservation awarded both the memorial and the park the Regina Kellerman Award at our Annual Meeting and Village Awards.

6 responses to “Many Layers of History at 7th Avenue and 12th Street: St. Vincent’s Hospital

  1. Was an intern and resident from 89 to 93. Such a warm, crazy place to train. I learned from the best that a person, gay, straight, rich or poor deserves kindness, caring and love during their time of need. This icon should have been in business to this day. Unfortunately the almighty dollar won again.

  2. Hello! I am a class of 65 graduate of SVH School of Nursing. The words warm, crazy made me want to say RIGHT! And everyone deserves kindness, caring and love in their time of need, made me remember truly I did not imagine it. We all learned to love in that wonderful institution.

  3. I was born in St. Vincent´s in Sept. 1940 and lived on 11th St. between 4th and Bleeker from 1959-´65. Later, on Hudson and Charles from 1967-´82.
    I live in Western Europe for the past 30 years.

  4. I was born in St Vincent’s Hospital in 1958: fortunate to be adopted 6 weeks later thru the NY Foundling Home (affiliated at that time).

    Researching my history of my roots since 1985 has been fascinating and heartwarming. I am fortunate!

  5. My aunt was a nurse there in the 1930s and I have no other information on her. I wonder are there any archives. She was Jane Jennings nee Mc Cormack and was highly regarded as there was I understand a plaque on the wall in her memory. I would love to find out more about her.

  6. I had a very negative experience giving birth here in 1988. That part of the hospital was very understaffed. I waited several hours after delivering to get a room. Requests for anything from wipes to change the b as by’s diapers and water bottles for the baby were ignored. They gave you the meal menu but never collected it, so you got whatever. They only gave epidurals for c-sections. My roommate had a high forceps delivery with tons of inside stitches without one. She begged the nurses for days for a donut pillow, and they ignored her until my pediatrician came to talk to me, and he got a donut for her. She also couldn’t pee and asked for help with that, again, none of the nurses could be bothered to help her with that. I had my first child at Beth Israel, very positive, so definitely saw how bad it was at St. Vincent.

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