Starting the New Year with a Crumble

From the City Room of the New York Times

Smallpox Hospital on Roosevelt Island Crumbles
By David W. Dunlap

The hauntingly abandoned, Gothically forbidding Smallpox Hospital on Roosevelt Island — perhaps New York City’s most romantic ruin — turned far less romantic and even more ruined last month when part of its crumbling gray stone facade fell to the ground.The collapse, which seems to have been a matter of gravity picking up where negligence left off, came as the publicly owned landmark hospital was closer than ever to being stabilized and preserved as part of the new Southpoint Park planned [pdf] on the island.

Preservationists, who have been trying for years to salvage the building, disclosed the accident on Thursday and expressed outrage and heartbreak that what should have been an 11th-hour rescue had turned instead into a last-minute crisis.

“This is a real failure of stewardship,” said Peg Breen, president of the New York Landmarks Conservancy. “They shouldn’t get by, saying, ‘We don’t have enough money’ or ‘It’s too late.’ They should bring in the cavalry and fix this important landmark.”

Stephen H. Shane, the president and chief executive of the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation, the state agency that oversees the island, said he was “perfectly willing to declare this an emergency situation and skip the usual government requirement of bidding in order to get the ruin stabilized as quickly as possible.”

He promised that the fallen stones would be numbered like those at the Temple of Dendur and, with the help of pictorial surveys of the structure, returned as closely as possible to their original locations on the north facade.

There are no longer floors or doors or windows at the Smallpox Hospital. Or a roof. Outside is in. Inside is out.

Posted Under: Neglect, Roosevelt Island

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