Groups Seek to Save the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary Building on Second Avenue

Posted on: May 11th, 2022 at 5:06 am by

Photo: Village Preservation

The New York Eye and Ear Infirmary, situated in the same East Village building for over a century, is poised to relocate. In its wake is uncertainly about the fate of this hulking six-story corner property.

With real estate speculation potentially queued, a collection of preservation-minded groups are pitching the city to save the building. Led by Village Preservation, the lobby sent a Request for Evaluation letter to the Landmark Preservation Commission on April 28, detailing the historical significance of 216-222 Second Avenue and why it requires protection.

“The historic Eye and Ear Infirmary at 13th Street and Second Avenue is in danger of being lost forever,” a statement from the group reads. “It is being emptied of doctors and services as a move several blocks to the north is being contemplated.”

The institution is currently affiliated with the Mount Sinai hospital network.

The New York Eye and Ear Infirmary was founded in 1820 by Dr. Edward Delafield and Dr. John Kearny Rodgers. History paints it as the earliest specialized hospital in the Western Hemisphere. Within seven months of opening – situated near the Five Points slum of yore – the physicians performed some of the first cataract needling procedures in the Americas, and became known in the medical profession as the “Fathers of American Ophthalmology.”

The New York Eye and Ear Infirmary spent the next three decades at various locations, and finally settled in the four-story Italianate brownstone at Second Avenue and East 13th Street in 1856, which was designed by Mettam and Burke. The building as we now see it was constructed in multiple stages.

In 1904, Photo: Museum of the City of NY

The hospital expanded in 1893 with a three-story addition, paving the way for the Du Bois Pavilion (1894), Platt Pavilion (1901), and Schermerhorn Pavilion (1903), all designed in a Richardsonian Romanesque style by architect Robert Williams Gibson. (Gibson’s other landmarked credits include the New York Botanical Garden Museum Building in the Bronx; St. Michael’s Episcopal Church at Amsterdam Avenue and 99th Street; and the Morton Plant House, later remodeled into the Cartier store, at 651 Fifth Avenue.)

Other alterations to the structure followed in the early 1900s.

Claims to fame include the Hellen Keller dedication speech for Schermerhorn Pavilion in 1903, and its appearance in The Godfather (Vito Corleone hospital scene).

The New York Eye and Ear Infirmary merged with Mount Sinai in 2013.

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