Today’s guest post is written by Bert Hansen, Ph.D., professor emeritus of history at Baruch College of CUNY. He is the author of Picturing Medical Progress from Pasteur to Polio: A History of Mass Media Images and Popular Attitudes in America (Rutgers, 2009), and other studies of medicine and science in the visual arts. He is presenting an illustrated lecture about historic New York City buildings, followed by two walking tours-Uptown (May 13) and Downtown (May 20). His 6 pm talk on Thursday, May 11, is entitled “Facades and Fashions in Medical Architecture and the Texture of the Urban Landscape.” To read more about this lecture and to register, go HERE.
Even people who are not architecture buffs usually recognize big contemporary names in architecture like I. M. Pei (the Louvre pyramid) of Pei Cobb Fried and Partners (Bellevue’s new Atrium Pavilion, 2005) or Skidmore Owings and Merrill (New York University Medical School buildings in the 1950s and Mt. Sinai’s Annenberg Pavilion of 1976). Most New Yorkers have also run into the firm of McKim Mead and White’s many New York City buildings and their master plans for Columbia University and the Bellevue Hospital campus.
But what about Charles B. Meyers and the firm of York and Sawyer—both from the early twentieth century? New Yorkers certainly know several of their contributions to the architecture of health care and to the cityscape more widely, but usually without knowing the designers’ names.
This blog introduces York and Sawyer. The work of Charles B. Meyer will appear in a subsequent installment.
In 1921, their handsome and stately Fifth Avenue Hospital in Beaux-Arts style was completed and dedicated. It spanned the block between 105th and 106th Streets, facing the entrance to Central Park’s Conservatory Garden. The lower parts of the facade were of light colored limestone blocks and the upper parts were stucco in the same color. It had terra cotta trim and a tile roof. Although its X-shape floor plan was traditional, this design broke new ground in being a hospital without wards—only private rooms. The hospital was later renamed Flower-Fifth Avenue Hospital, and the building is currently home to the Terence Cardinal Cooke Health Care Center.
The principals of the firm were Edward York (1863–1928) and Philip Sawyer (1868–1949), who established their firm in 1898 after they met while both were employed at McKim Mead and White. They continued the American version of Beaux-Arts principles exemplified by McKim Mean and White’s work even as they expanded classical and Renaissance style to high-rise buildings made possible by the invention of the Otis safety elevator. Among their many New York City buildings, readers are probably familiar with the New York Historical Society on Central Park West, the Federal Reserve Bank on Liberty Street, the Bowery Savings Bank on East 42nd Street, and the Central Savings Bank on 73rd Street between Broadway and Amsterdam (now the Apple Bank for Savings).
Just four years after the Fifth Avenue Hospital opened, the New York Academy of Medicine laid a cornerstone for its new home on Fifth Avenue at 103rd Street, also designed by York and Sawyer. This building had a dedication on November 18, 1926, which the following day’s New York Times headlined “Medical Academy in $2,000,000 Home.” (Adjusted for inflation that project would cost about $27 million today). An Italianate palazzo with Romanesque and Byzantine elements and faced in large stone blocks of variegated greys, the Academy was quite different from the classical lines and the uniform light color of their nearby hospital. But both were beautiful additions to a rapidly developing upper Fifth Avenue, now often called “Museum Mile.” They were proud—and enduring—achievements for the architects and for the health care institutions they served so well.
 Anonymous, “The Fifth Avenue Hospital and Laura Franklin Free Hospital for Children, New York City: York & Sawyer, Architects, Wiley Egan Woodbury, M.D., Consultant,” The Architectural Review 11:5 (November 1920), 129-140 plus unnumbered glossy plates.