The old Administration Building at Bellevue Hospital, America’s oldest public hospital, is one of my favorite buildings in New York City.
However, if you’ve never been to Bellevue before, visiting its First Avenue address today might lead you to think I’m a bit nuts. Sure, the I.M. Pei exterior is OK, but what the heck happened to the beautiful old McKim, Mead and White facade dating back to 1940??
As one of New York City’s busiest hospitals, Bellevue received a much needed expansion in 2005 to accommodate more patients, leading to the significant redesign. But here’s the thing – the original facade wasn’t torn down…
It still exists exactly where it was before, now enclosed in a beautiful, multi-tiered atrium:
There is nothing more fascinating to me than seeing a building facade encapsulated within another building. When you examine any outdoor structure, part of your judgement stems from such utilitarian concerns as its relationship to its surroundings, how it has weathered the elements, and so on.
When you see a building divorced from these elements, the way you view it changes substantially – it almost becomes an enormous sculpture, to be admired and reflected upon. The MET has a few period facades, and I find them equally compelling.
But why write about Bellevue in the week leading up to Christmas? Simple – they’ve got some of the best holiday decorations in the city:
I’ve been meaning to write a post about the old Administration Building at Bellevue for some time. Then, last week, I was walking by, and noticed the great decorations in the lobby. I see a LOT of Christmas decorations in my travels across the city, but I must say, Bellevue’s really impressed me, and I figured this was a great time to show off both the building and their holiday efforts.
Front and center is a gorgeous, towering Christmas tree, decorated in gold and red. A piano is nearby, and I believe live music is played throughout the month.
But what I really love is how they’ve decorated the building exterior as if it just snowed:
Snow-covered pine trees and lit up reindeer decorate the ledge, along with greenery in the normally empty urns:
A profile view of the lobby – it’s equally fascinating to view the old building facade from the vantage point of those balconies:
Among my favorite details are the two doors flanking the main entrance, whose balconies are now decorated with laurel. The first was for “Employes”…
The second brought patients to the Waiting Room.
I also love the archway over the main entrance (you can see it in both historical photos above)…
…which depicts a Native American and a Dutch Settler (I believe), along with a symbol of New York dating to the early 1700’s.
You can see a more vibrant rendition among the coats of arms decorating One Broadway. The beavers are meant to represent the fur trade, while the flour barrels represent agriculture. A windmill blade divides the symbol:
Bellevue is currently celebrating its 275th anniversary, and on display is a gas lantern dating back to approximately 1880. One of only three that still exist, this one was located on the Laundry Building at 29th Street. The lanterns were lit each night by a groundskeeper, then put out each morning.
Two additional lanterns, original to the Administration Building, are mounted beside the main entrance:
The history of Bellvue, from its origins as a six bed infirmary down by City Hall in 1776 to its current status as a 800 bed hospital receiving over 100,000 ER visits and 500,000 clinic visits annually, is simply too immense to get into here.
However, if you’ve never been, do yourself a favor and just take a trip to Bellevue to see it in person – I guarantee the building will take your breath away. Even better, walk through the main entrance and you’ll find a neat exhibit on the hospital, along with a very informative pamphlet briefly detailing the hospital’s 275 year history to fill you in.
Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Happy Holidays to all!!
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