It’s been a while since we’ve shown some love to one of our favorite buildings over at 143-145 Avenue D, the oldest extant building in Alphabet City – constructed in 1827 when the area was practically uncharted territory! So far our saga (see parts one, two and three) has covered almost 50 years of the building’s life beginning with its birth as the Dry Dock Banking House just before the neighborhood blossomed as a thriving shipbuilding hub. If you’ve been following our chronicle, you’d know that the building ceased being used as the banking house in 1848, and in the years that followed the shipbuilding industry along the East River began its ultimate decline.
Ah, the beauty of adaptive reuse. In 1870, things at this address started to get interesting again. John H. Keyser, an avid philanthropist, purchased 143-145 Avenue D from the New York Dry Dock Company for the purpose of housing the Strangers’ Hospital, which he financed entirely by himself.
While visiting the New York Historical Society, we were able to dig up a pamphlet entitled “The Strangers’ Hospital, Avenue D and Tenth Street,” published by Charles M. Cornwall in 1871, which nicely sums up the hospital’s mission:
“The Strangers’ Hospital is designed to afford a home in sickness for permanent as well as transient residents of the city, who are unable to obtain at home or hotel the care and treatment of which they stand in need. It also admits those from the country afflicted with grave or unusual diseases, requiring for their relief a special skill and experience, not readily attainable at their homes.”
The pamphlet continues,
“The accommodations for private patients are ample and commodious and afford every desirable comfort and convenience for the sick or convalescent.”
The conditions within the Strangers’ Hospital were indeed generous and state-of-the-art. In an article from February 4th, 1871, the New York Tribune described the interior of the hospital:
“The building stands on a plot of ground 50 feet by 150, having in the rear an irregular L-shaped piece of land. The structure is brick, four stories high, and divided in a very irregular manner, the object being to make it look as unlike a hospital as possible. The three upper stories are divided into 16 wards, containing three beds each; six wards, containing 14 beds each, and a large number of single rooms. Part of the first floor is divided into apartments, to be used by the officers of the hospital and the apothecary. Another portion will be made into a handsome parlor and chapel, 80 feet long, and the remainder will be occupied as a reading room by the inmates during the day and by the industrial classes during the evening. The basement floor will be reserved for the industrial classes of the vicinity of the vicinity as a place of quiet recreation, where they will be gratuitously provided with chess, checker, backgammon, and other games. On the L a small structure has been built in which are a laundry and other rooms. The most approved hospital furniture has been procured while the ventilation is unsurpassed. The walls are all solid, and coated with a patent india rubber impervious to contagion. Ice water is supplied through pipes like Croton. Turkish Baths, and all other requisite baths are provided, while a carriage way on Tenth-st. gives direct access to both the men’s and women’s departments. The hospital will accommodate 200 patients.”
The Strangers’ Hospital proved short lived, however. In 1871, the crimes of William “Boss” Tweed and his ring were brought to light. Among the key members was John Keyser, known as the “Ring Plumber.” By 1874, the Strangers’ Hospital had closed its doors and by 1877, Keyser had been forced into bankruptcy, thus ending all of his great philanthropic efforts. Such irony, that so truly charitable and altruistic an institution as the Strangers’ Hospital had been run entirely on stolen money.
Incidentally, according to this NY Times article John Keyser lived at 183 Second Avenue in 1877. This was one of the lovely Italianate homes that once stood on the west side Second Avenue between 11th & 12th Streets before they were demolished to make way for the Yiddish Art Theater.
Did Keyser’s scandals signal the end for 143-145 Avenue B? Certainly not! Join us for our next installment of the series, when the building becomes connected to the landmarked Wheatsworth Bakery complex.