Revisiting the Story of the Eastern Dispensary at 75 Essex Street
The historic Eastern Dispensary Building at 75 Essex Street – home of Eisner Bros. – will soon undergo major redevelopment to add a ten-story protrusion to its rooftop. Fresh off this news, which broke earlier this month, we thought it appropriate to revisit a Bowery Boogie entry from nine years ago detailing the history of this non-landmarked landmark.
Reposted below with slight edits for context.
I decided recently to take another look at some old notes about 75 Essex Street (aka 232 Broome). Here’s some in-depth insight as to why this unique, freestanding structure at the corner of Essex and Broome Streets should be protected.
The Eastern Dispensary (also known as the Good Samaritan Dispensary) was established in 1832 to provide the sick and poor with a place to receive aide and medicine. It opened during a massive cholera epidemic “that claimed the lives of more than 3,500 people, mainly destitute Irish immigrants crammed into filthy hovels in the fourth and sixth slum wards of downtown Manhattan.” The dispensary was at first on Grand Street and eventually moved to 75 Essex in 1890, the year the building was built.
Helen Campbell, a 19th century missionary, described its patients in her book Darkness and Light; or Lights and Shadows of New York Life:
Weary mothers with sick and wailing babies in their arms; women with bandaged heads and men with arms in slings; children sent by sick fathers and mothers at home for needed medicine. On most is the unmistakable look that tells of patient suffering and half-starved lives…
Other publications focused on promoting the Dispensary’s success in aiding New York’s impoverished. From the 1870 Annual Report of the Board of State Commissioners of Public Charities of the City of New York State:
The dispensary is open daily, and furnishes gratuitous medical and surgical aid to the destitute sick of the eastern portion of the city. It also gives special attention to vaccination, which is freely performed upon all who apply for it, without respect to their station or pecuniary circumstances. Those able to pay for this service are invited to, and it is stated, generally do contribute to the funds of the institution.
Since its opening, it has aided seven hundred and sixty-four thousand persons, at an average cost, of fifteen cents each. The number treated the past year was twenty-six thousand two hundred and eighty-six. Of these twenty-two thousand one hundred and thirty-four were dispensary patients, and four thousand one hundred and fifty-two were visited at their dwellings. The number vaccinated during the year was five thousand and seventy-one, and the number of prescriptions made, forty-three thousand four hundred and eight}1-nine.
The institution was visited June 4 , and its operations observed in the reception and treatment of a large number of patients. The medical staff consists of a house physician and full boards of visiting and attending physicians and surgeons, the latter serving without pay. It is a well ordered and finely managed medical charity, worthy the gifts of the benevolent and the aid it receives from the State.
In 1893, Nathan Straus (the founder of Macy’s) built New York City’s first milk pasteurization laboratory and distribution center on the East River Pier at Third Street. Throughout the end of the 1800s, milk laboratories had sprung up all over the city and one of them was housed in the Eastern Dispensary! New York mandated pasteurization (courtesy of Louis Pasteur) between 1908 and 1916 (when a federal law was passed). Historians mostly agree that in New York, the year was 1914.
The Eastern Dispensary officially closed in 1955. The New York City Register shows that on April 25, 1977, the City foreclosed on 75 Essex Street due to unpaid taxes, and in moved the Eisner Brothers.
In the time between the Dispensary’s closure and the Eisner Brothers’ takeover, The Bell Yarn Shop held court in 75 Essex. Originally housed in 371 Grand Street, Bell Yarn moved to 75 Essex sometime in the 1960s.
We have yet to pinpoint the exact dates, but nevertheless.
Shalom Eisner grew up in Williamsburg and in 1977 rented the first floor space of 75 Essex Street. It was there that he opened The Eisner Brothers Store. Here’s a blurb from their website:
Our tremendous selection includes tee shirts, sweat-shirts, golf shirts, jackets, caps and hats with the official insignia of the FDNY, NYPD, NYPD Highway Patrol, NYPD Harbor Unit, NYPD Scuba Unit, NYPD Aviation Unit or The Federal Law Enforcement. NYFirePolice.com is the haven for uniformed officers; they know they can count on us for all their wardrobe needs.
Additionally, we boast an extensive selection of boxing equipment and licensed sports products. Professional sports buffs and amateur wannabes: you won’t find a better array of boxing equipment and licensed sports products than this.
Our collection of “I Love New York” items is beyond compare: creative, original and stimulating. If you’re a native New Yorker or a proud tourist visiting New York, check out all our terrific products. You’re sure to find something you love among our many interesting I love NY items.
According to City records, in 1985, the Eisner family purchased the entire building.