The New York Cancer Hospital (aka Towers Nursing Home, aka 455 Central Park West) is one of the most striking buildings on Central Park West – if not in the entire city. What’s even more remarkable is that the Loire Valley chateau-style towers were medically prescribed – not simply decorative! Medical theory of the day was that round or octagonal wards promoted health by preventing air stagnation and the accumulation of dirt.
The hospital was privately financed, by donations from John Jacob Astor and others. The first, Astor-financed pavilion, was dedicated to treating women; later additions included a wing for men, a chapel, and an X-ray building. Public awareness of cancer was spurred by the death of President Ulysses S. Grant, from throat cancer. Until the 1880s, cancer was thought to be contagious, and limited to those living in poverty and filth.
In 1899 the hospital was renamed General Memorial Hospital for the Treatment of Cancer and Allied Diseases. In 1939 the hospital moved to the Upper East Side as Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. From 1955 to 1974 the hospital served as the Towers Nursing Home, operated by Bernard Bergman until it closed in scandal.
The abandoned buildings then became a crumbling haven for drug addicts until developer MCL Companies bought the property and successfully redeveloped the hospital/nursing home into luxury condominiums, with the addition of a 27-story tower. Apartments in the original (but gutted and rebuilt) buildings sold for up to $8 million!
A big thank you to Tsehaye Tesfai, who noticed my interest in this building and invited me up into his apartment so that I could shoot the hospital from above!
New York Cancer Hospital Vital Statistics
- Location: 455 Central Park West / 2 W 106th Street
- Year completed: 1886, 1890 (additions)
- Architect: Charles C. Haight
- Floors: 4
- Style: Gothic Revival
- New York City Landmark: 1976
- National Register of Historic Places: 1977
New York Cancer Hospital Recommended Reading
- Wikipedia entry
- NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission designation report
- Daytonian In Manhattan blog
- The New York Times Streetscapes column (history – 12/28/2003)
- The New York Times Streetscapes column (condo tower approval – 10/4/1987)
- The New York Times Streetscapes column (condo development – 1/23/2005)
- Go Historic website
- City Realty review
- Curbed NY article
- Hints and Echos blog