For decades, the Northern Dispensary on Grove Street and Waverly Place has sat vacant. A deed restriction requires the building to serve the poor and infirm, limiting possible uses and occupants. Plans to revive it over the years have failed, until now, as it was recently announced that God’s Love We Deliver has leased the building.
The Northern Dispensary
New York City’s first dispensary was established in 1791 in what is now the City Hall area to provide medical care for the poor. A group of citizens saw a need for a second dispensary serving residents of what was then the northern part of the city, today known as the West Village and Chelsea.
On April 27, 1827 a group of residents and local doctors finalized the Dispensary’s articles of incorporation. Article 2 defined the clinic’s purpose: “To furnish medicine and medical attendance gratuitously, to such of the inhabitants as may be proper objects of this charity…,” summed up by a small plaque on the exterior of the building which simply says “Heal The Sick.” In 1831, carpenter Henry Bayard and mason John Tucker built the Dispensary’s current building to house the Greenwich Village Free Medical Clinic. It served thousands of patients annually. By the mid-19th century, the number of patients the Dispensary treated had grown so large, the trustees added a third story to the building, and the Dispensary served ten to twenty thousand patients a year in the second half of the 19th century.
The Dispensary provided inpatient services to the city’s poor and sick until 1920. From 1920 to 1940 the Dispensary provided mostly outpatient services. In the early 1940s, the clinic’s services were about equally split between medical and dental care, and over the next twenty years, it provided outpatient dental care only.
In 1986, playwright, novelist, and poet George Whitmore was refused treatment at the Dispensary because of his HIV+ status. He sued, and in 1988 was awarded $47,000 by the Human Rights Commission. Rather than follow the law and treat patients with HIV, in May, 1989 the clinic announced it would close its doors.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of New York bought the building in 1990 and planned to turn the building over to BRC Human Services for conversion into a 15-room single-room-occupancy for homeless people with AIDS. This plan stirred both opposition and support from neighbors, but was eventually abandoned.
In 1998, the building was sold to William Gottlieb, a well-known but eccentric real estate investor who owned about 100 properties in the West Village, the Meatpacking District, Chelsea, and the Lower East Side. It has sat vacant ever since.
God’s Love We Deliver
God’s Love We Deliver (GLWD) was founded in 1986 after Cabrini Hospice volunteer Ganga Stone delivered a meal to Richard, a man living with AIDS. He was too ill to prepare the packaged food she brought him. Stone organized local restaurants to donate food and volunteers to deliver 50 meals per week. Within two years, the organization is preparing 13,000 meals per year. By 1991, the organization served almost 100,000 meals annually. In 1993, GLWD secured and renovated the vacant building on the corner of 6th Avenue and Spring Street, and was providing over 400,000 annual meals by 1995. Despite its name, the organization has no religious affiliation.
The Natural Fit
In 2019, Gottleib’s nephew Neil Bender and his wife, Marika, who now control William Gottlieb Real Estate, began supporting GLWD. When they learned that the organization needed space, they proposed the Northern Dispensary. “We had the natural fit,” the Benders said in a statement. Plans to restore the building will be presented to Community Board 2 and the Landmarks Preservation Commission. Fireplace mantels and other historical features of the 190-year-old structure are said to be planned to be preserved.
The Northern Dispensary is in a corner of the Village where GLWD focused much of its efforts in the early days, where AIDS wrought considerable devastation, and where people with HIV and AIDS were discriminated against. After a 30 year break in the Northern Dispensary’s role of “Healing The Sick,” the building may well soon be fulfilling its two-century old mission again.