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Harlem Hospital Unveils New $325 Million Pavilion and Historic Murals

By Jeff Mays | September 27, 2012 5:22pm

HARLEM — Harlem Hospital opened its new $325 million wing to the public Thursday, unveiling a public art gallery that features historic murals commissioned by the Works Progress Administration Federal Arts Project.

The Mural Pavilion, located on Lenox Avenue between 135th and 136th streets, will also feature works curated by hip hop producer and artist Kasseem "Swizz Beatz" Dean in his role as the first global ambassador for the Health and Hospitals Corporation.

"Today's ribbon-cutting demonstrates our deep respect for the Harlem community," said Harlem Hospital Center Executive Director Denise Soares.

The six story, 195,000 square foot building connects the Martin Luther King, Jr. Pavilion and the Ronald H. Brown Ambulatory Care Pavilion. The new structure, designed by architectural firm Hellmuth, Obata + Kassabaum, Inc., houses surgical clinics and a new dialysis unit among other departments.

The adult and pediatric emergency department and level 1 trauma center will also be housed in the building and be finished by 2013.

Rep. Charles Rangel said the new pavilion signaled a new era for the hospital. Where once people said not to take them to Harlem Hospital if they became sick, "now people are saying can you get me into Harlem Hospital," said Rangel.

The unveiling of the murals represents the first time they've been seen by the public since being restored. The murals were in the hospital for more than 70 years, with many being covered by plaster and some damaged by fire and water.

Eight murals were created at the hospital and five remain. Harlem Hospital was the first WPA commission for African-American artists.

The Manhattan delegation of the city council allocated $4.2 million to restore the murals.

Works such as "Pursuit of Happiness" by Vertis C. Hayes, "Magic in Medicine" and "Modern Medicine" by Charles H. Alston and "Modern Surgery and Anesthesia" by Alfred D. Crimi have been fully restored and are on display. The significant "Recreation in Harlem" by Georgette Seabrooke, is on display while it continues to be fully restored.

the facade of the new pavilion is a block-long glass reproduction of some of the murals which is lit up at night.

"At night time when you see the mural lit up it's like, 'wow they are doing big things in Harlem, wow they are rebuilding Harlem.' I feel it gives people some type of inspiration to chase a goal that they have," said Dean, who is married to singer Alicia Keys.

Dean said he thought the artwork could serve as an inspiration to young people.

"I know many people that came to this hospital for the wrong reasons. But now to be able to come to this hospital and see all this inspiration it can change the dynamic on Harlem Hospital and the opportunity that you can have to express yourself through arts," added Dean who is also a mixed-media artist.

Dean said he hopes to partner with other up and coming artists to create work to display in the lobby's pavilion.

Vertis Hayes Jr., 62, a retired aerospace engineer from Los Angeles visited the work created by his father.

"To me, it's a miracle, it's a gift," he said while standing next to the restored "Pursuit of Happiness" which depicts the different phases of the lives of African-Americans both in Africa and in America.

"When people see this I want them to understand they are a part of the fabric of the history being depicted," he said.