Many Layers of History at 7th Avenue and 12th Street: 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 (GVSHP 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 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
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.
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 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, GVSHP awarded both the memorial and the park the Regina Kellerman Award at our Annual Meeting and Village Awards.