From the 20′s-30′s, First Avenue is better known as Hospital Row. Lined with numerous medical facilities, including Bellevue and NYU Hospital, there are a lot of fascinating buildings to be found…
…but my favorite is the old Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital at 30th & 1st:
Bellevue Psych is one of those buildings that looks absolutely beautiful when the sun is shining, the bricks have been scrubbed, and the vines and trees are in full bloom. But in the colder months, when the skies are overcast, the grime begins to build up and the plant life dies, man does that tone change quickly.
In particular though, I’ve never seen anything in Manhattan quite like the old Bellevue Psych grounds, located through this gate off of 1st Ave. Visit in the colder months…
…and I swear, it feels like one of the most haunting places in New York:
Forgotten and dilapidated, it’s like a horror movie set designers dream come to life. I’m a huge H. P. Lovecraft fan, and this is pretty much what I picture the grounds of Arkham Sanitorium to look like:
Don’t get me wrong – when the foliage returns to life, this transforms into a really pretty escape from the traffic of 1st Avenue. But for some reason, the cold really turns the atmosphere bleak:
At some point, the boarded up windows on the ground floor were painted with cheery images…
…but most have begun to fade (though I love the fake windows with the flowers in the back):
Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital was built in 1931 in the Italian Renaissance style (the term “Bellevue” would soon become slang for any mental health facility). Over the years, it became a dumping ground by the police for many of the city’s so-called criminally insane (Mark David Chapman spent some time here – other well known patients include Edie Sedgwick and Norman Mailer). It also served as a revolving door for homeless patients, and by 1983, nearly all new admissions were re-admissions.
The city began phasing it out as a psychiatric center in 1984, and in 1998, it had been fully transformed into a homeless intake shelter. It almost became a luxury hotel last year, until plans fell through.
If you want the full horror movie effect, however, go at night. I’ll never forget taking my friend to Bellevue at midnight years ago for an emergency. As we passed the dilapidated grounds, he turned to me and said “Wait – this is the hospital??”
I love the tangled mess of hibernating vines, clutching the building for life…
Such a stranglehold:
Some old Halloween decorations lying around, looking as much at home there today as in October:
To me, this is one of those rare New York places that takes on new life in being forgotten. Definitely check it out one night if you’re ever in the mood to be a bit unsettled…
PS – The interior is said to house an endless amount of remnants from its earliest days as a psychiatric hospital – check out some gorgeous pictures by Eric Michael Johnson here, who actually checked himself in to photograph it.
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