Group Tries to Save Historic Hospital Building From Demolition

By Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska on February 5, 2014 9:45am 

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 The historic ‘T’ Building on the Queens Hospital Center campus is threatened with demolition.
T Building in Jamaica Hills
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QUEENS — A Queens preservation group said it will try to save a 70-year-old city hospital building in Jamaica Hills that was eyed for historic designation but that some local officials want to demolish.

The Art Moderne-style 10-story former hospital, at Parsons Boulevard and Goethals Avenue, is known as the “T building" for once serving patients with tuberculosis.

Designed in 1937 by John Russell Pope, who was also the architect of the Jefferson Memorial in Washington D.C., the former Triboro Hospital for Tuberculosis opened in 1941, according to the Queens Preservation Council.

But the building, located on the Queens Hospital Center campus, has not been used to treat patients for years. Currently only portions of it are being used for hospital office space.

Some local elected officials, including state Sen. Tony Avella and Assemblywoman Nily Rozic, who represents a nearby district, sent a joint letter recently to Community Board 8, asking its members to support the building's demolition, said Marie Adam-Ovide, district manager at CB8.

“They [elected officials] said there would be a lot of money involved in trying to bring it back to code so in January we voted that we support demolishing it because of the cost,” Adam-Ovide said of the community board's decision.

The timetable for the proposed demolition was not clear. The plans for the site, which is owned by the city, were also not immediately clear.

Controversy arose in 2012, when Comunilife, a nonprofit organization providing health and housing services for low-income New Yorkers, proposed transforming the structure into residences for former homeless people who suffer from mental illness or are HIV positive.

According to CB8 documents from February 2013, it was estimated that it would take $50 million to bring the building up to code.

The proposal was rejected after fierce opposition from both local residents and elected officials.

But now elected officials are calling for the building to be torn down.

Adam-Ovide said that the building contains asbestos and has “a lot of structural defects.” She also said that once it’s demolished, the space could be used for something else, although she said she was not aware of any specific proposals for the site.

But Mitchell Grubler, chair of the Queens Preservation Council, said it would be a huge loss. He said the building, which was deemed eligible for the National Register of Historic Places by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation in the 1990s, “is of particular historical significance.” 

Grubler said the building, which is not landmarked, was designed to accommodate 550 patients, was very needed at the time, as there was no cure for tuberculosis back then. “In 1937, in Queens alone, there were an estimated 4,000 active cases and 449 deaths from TB in the previous year,” he said.

At the time, “exposure to sunlight and fresh air” was one of the ways that tuberculosis patients were treated, and the hospital’s design reflects that, Grubler said.

The building, which faces south, features angled-forward wings, large balconies and window openings and sun terraces.

Rozic and Avella did not immediately respond to phone calls seeking comment.

But state Assemblyman David Weprin, in whose district the "T building" is located, said he is open to proposals.

“It’s a beautiful structure and it does have historic value and I wouldn’t demolish it lightly,” he said. But he also said that all options should be considered. “It could be demolished to build a school" to ease overcrowding, Weprin said.

Cleon Edwards of Queens Hospital Center said in an email that “the T Building is currently being used for a number of administrative and back office functions.”

“No final decision has been made regarding the building's future use,” Edwards noted.

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