The digging, crashing, smashing and clanging will echo over the East River for a couple more years, as Cornell Tech builds a new campus on Roosevelt Island where the Goldwater Hospital stood since 1939.
The patients, many confined to wheel-chairs, have been moved to Coler Hospital at the North End of Roosevelt Island, or to the renovated old North General Hospital in Harlem (now the Henry J. Carter Specialty Hospital and Nursing Facility).
The Goldwater Hospital was a monument to the golden years of public health in New York City, designed in distinctive chevrons to offer light and air to all its patients. The rooms had terraces to allow patients direct access to fresh air, and each ward featured a solarium. The hospital had 2,700 windows.
Architect Charles Giraudet spent several weeks documenting the facility before its demolition in early 2014, and created an archive of over 15,000 photographs. Works Progress Administration / Federal Arts Project murals decorated common areas, featuring unusual abstract subjects and designs from Ilya Bolotowsky, Albert Swinden, Theodore Haupt and Joseph Rugolo. The Bolotowsky mural was restored, partially by the artist himself in 1981 before he died, with work overseen by his son finished later.
The public health thinking underlying the Goldwater Hospital reflected a shift from the emphasis on epidemics and infant mortality to chronic disease and care of the aged as life spans increased. Dr. Sigismund Schulz Goldwater, health commissioner under Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, had a vision for serving emerging needs and training young doctors in research. The founding staff saw an opportunity for longitudinal research, based on its chronic long-term patients. Both New York University and Columbia ran research units there. There was also secret War Department research on malaria and human tolerance for heat and cold, as well as minimum food (starvation) studies. These studies used conscientious objectors and volunteers. Anne Yoder, an archivist for the Swarthmore College Peace Collection has written about this work in “Human Guinea Pigs in CPS Detached Service, 1943-1946“.
In its early years Goldwater cared for polio patients and ran a wheelchair repair shop with a national reputation for innovation and patient service. Mike Acevedo, nicknamed Dr. Wheelchair, ran it as a “wheel chair pit-stop that maintained and repaired a stock of more than 2,000 wheelchairs.” In his early work during the Vietnam era, they would scavenge parts from model airplanes to use as controls.
The island was a pioneer in creating barrier free environments with curb cuts, elevators, wide doors, and low counters, according to Judith Berdy, president of the Roosevelt Island Historical Society, which has extensively documented this history, and has a rich archive on the hospital, its leading doctors and some of its patients. She says that the hospital and associated research institutes have hosted many outstanding research scientists and doctors, including hospital director Dr. David Seegal who made advances in nephritis and rheumatic fever, and Julius Axlerod who won a Nobel Prize in Medicine for neuro-pharmalogical research relating to pain relief. Important studies of tuberculosis, arthritis and cirrhosis were also conducted there.
There was a nursing school and residence on the island. The Central Nurses Residence had 600 rooms, built by the Works Progress Administration. New York City ran the School of Practical Nursing from 1948-to 1970. One of the most famous nurses is best known outside of her work with patients. Jazz singer Alberta Hunter worked at Goldwater for 20 years, but is most known for her blues recordings of the teens to 1940s. Concealing her age, she studied for a nursing degree, and upon retirement started singing again until she died at age 89.
Long-term patients developed strong relationships with staff and the nursing facility operated as a home community. Patients created art in the art studio and published writing from their literary workshops. Yvonne South, a self-taught painter who was a double amputee, did two paintings that hung in the visitor center.
The powerful public health messages of the Goldwater facility were embedded in the building and campus, surrounded by its healing vistas of the East River and Manhattan skylines. The dispersal of the Goldwater community to Harlem and to Coler signals more than the re-purposing of a city hospital. It reflects a radical shift away from investing in people and public health, in favor of the cyborg, a technology campus that can spit out electronic innovations that bypass human bodies entirely, unless they are eager young PhD working on synthetic organisms. Technology has accomplished amazing things in the medical field, but the Goldwater Hospital story is a reminder that people – flesh, blood and bodies – are a necessary part of the field too.
Photos from above: Goldwater Hospital from the Queensboro Bridge in 1938; Hospital Plan (courtesy Roosevelt Island Historical Society); mural by Ilya Bolotowsky (courtesy RIHS); Wheelchair Repair Room (photo by Charles Giraudet).
James S. Kaplan says
Excellent and fascinating article on an important aspect of New York City’s history previously unknown to virtually all New Yorkers
MY FATHER WAS AT GOLDWATER IN 1959 BEFORE GOING TO MSKCC, THEN NAMED MEMORIAL HOSPITAL. IN 1960 WELFARE ISLAND WAS A TRAINING SITE FOR FDNY PROBATIONARY FIREMEN OF WHICH I WAS PART OF IN THAT YEAR
Luis chic0 says
I work there in 1960 in the supply room in the mall and painted practically everything and I met beautiful people there lovely and the house is in the other side was the bad spirits if you want to know about that that’s just really spooky story
I worked there in 1960 what happened
Catherine Griffin says
Was a nursing student at Queens College, 1967 – 1969. Goldwater hospital was part of our hospital rotation. Quite unforgettable . Thought it was long gone by now! A different era with an obviously dedicated staff.
Maria roman says
Worked at Goldwater Hospital as new nurse. My great experience. Patients and staff then very caring. Helped me pursue my career. Feel blessed I worked their.
I was a college volunteer at Goldwater Hospital. At that time..late 60s, i took the train across the 59th street bridge coming from bklyn college.
I remember climbing down a ladder by the bridge to get onto the campus.
My charge was a young woman in a wheelchair named Nadine whom i tutored .
As i think back, it was a difficult trek to get onto the island.
Stephen Kilcooley says
I was the Fire Marshall from 1993 to 2010. There were a lot of great memories of the staff and patients.
Goldwater memorial hospital may be gone, but it is not forgotten. Very grateful !
Chrisman scherf md says
Wonderful article, brings back fond memories.I and my siblings were born on Welfare Island.My father was superintendent of Goldwater Hospital.I remember walking up the steps of the entrance and sitting in his office watching the ships sail up the East River.walking through the wards and seeing the poor patients in iron lungs this was before the Salk polio vaccine thank for this tribute CG Scherfmd
Alan Demsky says
My father, Harvey Demsky, was deputy superintendent under your father. My memories of Goldwater go back to the early 1950’s when he worked in the payroll department. Vividly remember riding the automobile elevator to park and keeping busy with typewriters and rubber stamps while he caught up with work on occasional Saturdays. Struggled to remember a nursing administrator who I think he often butted heads with. Just now popped into my head: Horne I believe.
Chrisman Scherf says
Yes it was Horne I often heard about her at home.
Chrisman Scherf MD
To all the people from gold eayef especial sam that played basketball. With robert. E darby my cousin gone but know not forgotton by u and jamek who later married that afro ametican sheriff officer
Graham Wolfson says
My father , Aaron Harry Wolfson was the senior chemist who ran the chemistry lab from the late 40’s until his retirement in 1973. We never knew exactly what he was up to there. We know he was involved in research and different experiments. We always thought he was doing some sort of work for the military. He was a major in the army during WWII. He also worked for army intelligence after the war up until i was born in 1954. At that time he got out of that because he had a son and the work was too dangerous.
To the day he died in 1976 he never told anyone of us what he was doing all those years. His family would love to know. But attempts to get info from the government have proved to be useless.
Kurt W. Kohn, MD, PhD says
As a third year medical student at Columbia in 1955, I was on a 3-month elective in Columbia’s hypertension research unit at Goldwater. That is where I first heard of the new Clinical Center at the National Institutes of Health. Several researchers from Goldwater had been recruited to the NIH clinical staff. Sometimes they referred to the NIH as the ‘Goldwater on the Potomac’. It led to an opportunity to get into medical research, which is what I had been hoping for. (From the middle of the 59th street bridge, there was an elevator that took you and your car down to the island.)
Brian David Madigan says
My great-grandmother was a patient there from 1940 until her death in 1945. I’m glad she spent her final years in such a place, instead of the Hell’s Kitchen and Brooklyn tenements where she lived for over 40 years.
Carol Neilson says
I do genealogy and just found out that a great-great aunt of mine was here for the last year or so of her life, in the early 40s. Not sure why, as her death certificate doesn’t indicate. She seems to have a hard time when she immigrated to America: she was widowed when her first two children were young, then seems to have had twins out-of-wedlock well after her husband died, one of them was deaf. I found each family member in different institutions in the 1920 census, but they managed to get back together by the 1930 census. She did live to see some grandchildren. But from what I’ve read of this hospital, her stay hear might not have been bleak, as I was first imagining. I’m relieved.
Rochelle Craig says
I worked there as a Recreation Therapist in the early 60s. I wheeled movie projectors into patient’s rooms and brought in room-to-room volunteer entertainment. I most remember the young polio patients in the iron lungs who were so brave. The name I most remember is “Bruce.” I always wonder what replaced the iron lungs and what happened to those patients. I wouldn’t mind if someone emailed me.
Kathleen Hulser says
You did important work for the people who spent so much of their lives there. It was an imaginative design that reminds of us the ambitions New York once had for its public health system.
I an trying to get information to prove is what a Lie that in that place they make human experiment that cause illness, because in Puerto Rico there are books of “intellectuals” saying in that hospital doctors caused the death of a very known poet in Puerto Rico, Julia de Burgos.
Carmen D Lucca says
The book JULIA’S DIARY and OTHER SIMPLE TRUTHS explores this and other myths about Julia de Burgos’ life in New York
A Fine says
This post and the comments are absolutely fascinating. Thank you, all!
Thanks for sharing this article,! I enjoyed reading it. I am the granddaughter of a nurse who retired from Goldwater in the nineteen seventies after 38 yrs of service, She told me many things about the hospital and about Mrs. Alberta Hunter. My grandmother told me about when they first started taking out social security when it wasn’t mandatory.
Isabel salcedo says
Fui una paciente del hospital en los años 1998hasts 2001 y tengo muy buenos recuerdos estaba silla de ruedas y tube rehabilitación y volví a caminar podría haber vivido toda mi vida ahí las enfermeras y doctores me cuidaron bien y pedí el alta xke era joven 43 años y quería ocuparme de mi familia pero mi estancia fue aprendí inglés, informática, fotografía y recién me entero que lo han derrumbado es una lástima hacían cosas maravillosas
He querido tener contacto con una paciente amiga mía paula daza y no he podido y algunas enfermeras y rehabilitado ras no me ha sido posible será x el derrumbe para mi fue una maravillosa experiencia con todo lo que tenía gracias por ayudar. A vivir
Dawn Flanagan says
Can someone tell me if there is anywhere to find out patient names that were there from 1949 on? I am looking for information on an infant that was institutionalized due to developmental delays , and was wondering if this is where she might have been placed .
Linda Dianto says
I worked at both these hospitals on Roosevelt Island and suggest you contact Bird S. Coler Hospital for your request…they still have a Children’s Unit there, as Goldwater Hospital has now been torn down. Perhaps the Admissions Dept. Has records for Goldwater or can check for name at Coler’s childrens’ Unit, another possibility.
In the early 70s I can remember being a volunteer on the respiratory ward were a iron lung was still in use
Maureen Higgins says
Did you know a child named Kevin Shelton who had polio as an infant and was paralyzed and on a ventilator? I was his nurse for the first three years of his life at NYU, and visited regularly while I lived in NYC, and occasionally on visits to the city after I moved to VA.
Was a candy striper early 70’s and it was an amazing experience. Atlantic Beach and fishing, BBQs , and helping a woman in a iron lung aggregate her writings as a pilot in WWII ( Women Airforce Service Pilots)
I became a recreation therapist because of my years @ Goldwater…
Carol N. says
I do genealogy and just found out that a great-great aunt of mine was here for the last year or so of her life, in the early 40s. Not sure why, yet. She seemed to have a hard time when she immigrated to America: she was widowed when her first two children were young, then seems to have had twins out-of-wedlock well after her husband died, one of them was deaf. I found each family member in different institutions in the 1920 census, but they managed to get back together by the 1930 census. She did live to see some grandchildren. But from what I’ve read of this hospital, her stay hear might not have been bleak, as I was first imagining.
Patricia C Brunn says
I was a nursing student at Cornell University-NY Hospital School of Nursing in the early 1960s and assigned to Goldwater for a two-month stint as part of the curriculum on chronic diseases. I began there in the spring. In the mornings, we were picked up at our 70th and York nursing residence and driven by bus to the facility. In the afternoons, on clement days, a group of us would sometimes walk home, using the elevator that rose from Welfare Island (now Roosevelt Island) to the center of the 59th street bridge (now Queensboro Bridge).
I have never forgotten the bravery of the two patients with whom I worked or the examples of courage demonstrated by so many of the other patients. I particularly recall a young woman who painted with her teeth from an iron lung and used her drawings to make stationary and a good-natured, bilateral amputee who, while lying on his stomach, used canes to propel himself on his stretcher down the hallways. My time at Goldwater left an indelible and meaningful mark.
Christopher Platt says
From 1987 until 2002 I performed computer and data communication field service for a contractor at 20+ HHC facilities. A trip to Goldwater Hospital was sometimes depressing due to the extent of the disabilities of many of the patients. In the 1990’s I saw a census report that showed one patient who had been a resident there since WWII – over fifty years! They used early personal computers to allow some nonverbal patients to communicate, which was pretty cutting-edge stuff thirty years ago.
I was always impressed by the dedication of the staff at Goldwater Hospital.
Kathleen Hulser says
thanks, interesting information about early use of computers to communicate for the nonverbal.
dennis forsythe @ Menorah Center Rehabilitation says
I was one of the Assistant Managers in Support Services at Goldwater in the 1970’s.. It was an intriguing and interesting facility. The patients were the center of care by all departments. Working there was incredibly difficult and at the same incredibly rewarding.
I am sad it’s no longer there but I treasure the memories.
Carol Caruso says
Hello Dennis, my name is Carol Caruso. My grandmother was at Goldwater Memorial Hospital late 60s to maybe mid 70s but I don’t have the date she died or when she entered Goldwater but I did go with my father and we lived in Astoria and drove over to Roosevelt Island every day to have my father bring her food And he always brought something for the nurses each time he went. She was confined to a cot on her elbows because she was paralyzed and I never knew what disease she had that did that to her do you think there would be any information on patients who were there in the 60s and 70s ? If so, could you direct me somewhere most appreciative of your note it makes me feel so much better.
Brian Scott Fitzgerald says
Although one may be a patient/resident of a hospital such as: Goldwater or Coler the law requires that they still be served any and all legal papers/process that involve them; I was a subcontractor for ‘Interboro Process Serving’ for 7 years and frequently had to serve patients at both hospitals – they were well run, I always felt safe even with unruly and/or unpredictable patients by way of the help afforded me by staff members, I ‘got the job [of serving said legal process] done’ without incident and was even able to hike to the lighthouse on the North end of the island most times..!!! I sincerely hope the patients that I served improved and that the legal matters which I informed them of were properly taken care of… BSF~
Kathleen Hulser says
indeed one wonders if he might have been working on those thirst and food deprivation experiments. Best Kathleen
Linda Besink says
My mother had an aunt who was diagnosed with MS when she was around 16 years old. She spent the remainder of her life institutionalized, ultimately at Goldwater Memorial Hospital. I believe she died in the early 1970’s but I don’t have a death date. I visited her only once with my grandfather in the mid-1960’s. I wonder how it easy would be to do some research online about her. I also recall that the family did not bury her, for some reason, and that makes me upset. But I have a memory of my mother asking my grandfather what would be done with her body and he simply said, “potters field.” I’d really like to research some of these points.
The Potter’s Field was on Hart Island, which is one of multiple islands north and northeast of Roosevelt Island. It’s at the foot of Long Island Sound, between Queens and the Bronx.
You MIGHT find some leads here:
Arthur Muller says
Did research on Parkinson’s patients during my summer breaks from med school 66 67.Great experience
Moshe Schmidt MD says
One year service as a resident at the Columbia University research Service in 1962 was pleasant and exciting. Dr.Seegal,Wertheim patients and staff behaved like friends!
The high caliber researchers in the field of hypertension liver disease,lipids awesome.
Maureen (Mo) Higgins says
I was a nurse in the Pediatric ICU at NYU Hospital (as it was known then) in the early 1970’s. I cared for a young boy, Kevin, who was completely paralyzed and unable to breathe on his own after receiving a live Polio vaccine. He was on a ventilator in our ICU for 3 years. I became extremely fond of him, and stayed involved with him when he moved to the respiratory unit at Goldwater, where he lived out his remaining years till his early 40’s I believe. As the years went by and I moved out of state, I saw less of him. He has always remained in my heart, and I speak of him a lot. He helped form me as the Pediatric Nurse I became.
I wonder if anyone here remembers him. He was the first child in the Respiratory Unit. I would love to hear stories of him from those who knew him in any context.
Judy Bloom Nelson says
Hi Mo, Judy Bloom Nelson here. I remember your love of Kevin and even the hard day he left us. I have some stories regarding Kevin before and after NYU. I also think of him regularly and am in occasional touch with his mom. He affected us so deeply. The day he came into NYU is still fresh in my mind. We bagged him for at least 24 hrs, spelling each other, until Dr. Axelrod finally gave us the devastating news that it was polio. We were devastated. Email me if you want to chat. Judy
Maureen Higgins says
Hi Judy. How amazing to hear from you! Kevin brought us all together in a special way! I would love to chat with you. My email is email@example.com and cell is 215-783-7715. I live in Philly suburbs, and am retired, single.enjoying life without work.
Funny thing many years later I was working home care and worked with a baby named Kevin. He had a complicated medical picture and was on a vent till age 6 or 7. I was his primary nurse and very attached to him. His first word was to name me Mo, which by then I had stopped using. Guess it is easier to say than Maureen. Kevin Shelton also gave me the name Mo. The second time around it stuck and I am still known as Mo by most friends.
I lived on the West Coast for a while and then in VA, but always saw Kevin when back to see family and friends. Times between visits became longer and then one day he wasn’t there, and no one knew anything. Then Goldwater closed. I had lost touch with Linda.
Give me a call, email, or text. Say hi to Bill. Where do you live? Still working? Kids? Grandkids ?
Audrey Washington says
My first experience as a Cna in 1989 was the best at Goldwater hospital I learned so much there from the nursing staff co-workers and doctors this information was very informative to me cause I really didn’t know Goldwater history but I do now thank you I miss working there .
Richard Ross MD says
I spent my college summers from 1973 to 1978 working in an NYU research lab in the basement of Goldwater. My fondest memory is the employee cafeteria. The food was absolutely delicious and breakfast was 25 cents, lunch was 35 cents and dinner 50 cents.
Ange Puig says
I was a psychologist intern in neuropsychological unit in the 1970 for a summer placement I learned about about mental health and life at Goldwater
Rayan Abee says
This is very informative! Thank you so much for doing such a great job. keep sharing good content.
Lynda Ruiz says
I worked at Gold water Hospital during summer break as a volunteer. I helped numerous departments whenever help was needed. Everyone I worked with,administrative office, lab,transporting paraplegic pts on stretchers etc. I was like a gal Friday for all departments assigned. I loved it. I remember Angie who was a wheelchair bound little girl who needed sectioning every few hours too.There was a documentary of her on channel 13. I’d love to watch it
But I can’t locate” Angie’s world”! How can I get to see it? Oh and I was placed in ” who’s who in America, as a result of my good works!