Modern Vicious Bite (St. Vincent Hospital’s O’Toole Medical Services Building) (13th St)

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Built in 1964, St. Vincent Hospital’s O’Toole Medical Services Building at 13th St and 7th Avenue is still rather gorgeous when you look at it up close. The building was originally designed for the National Maritime Union, and it is supposed to look like a ship docked in Greenwich Village. According to then president Joseph Curran, “our buildings cannot just be boxes where the Union’s work is done. They are going to stand for the dignity of seamen and their importance to the community. They will express the strength and vision of our Union.” The nautical reference is probably lost on most people who see it. The stronger and more lasting visual impression is more molar, although it’s probably the case that time has softened what must have once been a very vicious bite.

I like the way this modern building with its tough concrete intrudes into and busts up just-a-little-but-not-too-much the 19th neighborhood feel of old Greenwich Village. That said, the passage of time is not always kind to old architecture, including old modern architecture, so it’s nice to see this relic hanging on in a dynamic built environment. When St. Vincent went bankrupt, they were going to tear down the building for residential real estate development, but then the building got designated a mid-century modern landmark. The site is being re-developed. They’ll gut and re-purpose the interior while preserving the signature facade. Right now, the building has a stand alone character. It just sits there, jutting out over the street. You can still feel some of the menace, which I think is going to get lost entirely when they nestle it into a larger complex.

I took these picture on an overcast and drizzly November day. For more information, see:

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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