Photo: P. Shalhoub, 2001
Jersey City NJ
Photo: A. Selvaggio, 2002
One of Frank Hague's major goals during his political career was the founding of a hospital that would provide free state-of-the-art health care to Jersey City residents. By the 1930s, the Jersey City Medical Center was referred to as "a monument to the policy of municipal socialism" and became a testimony to the "Hagueism" of a bygone era (Donohue). Closed in 2004, the hospital complex has been rehabilitated into a luxury condominium known as The Beacon, allowing the Art Deco style buildings to continue to grace the Jersey City skyline for years to come.
Center complex became one of the city's most visible and recognizable landmarks. It included the Medical Center Hospital, Pollak Chest Diseases
Hospital, Murdoch Hall, and Margaret Hague Maternity Hospital among
ten brick and terra cotta buildings, which are from fifteen-to-twenty-three
stories high, on the fourteen acre site at the Palisade Cliffs. After
its completion in 1941, the Medical Center was the third largest
health care facility in the world.
Jersey City's first hospital began in 1808 in a building intended by the Associates of the Jersey Company as a public market. Known as the "pest house," it treated patients affected by the cholera and small pox epidemic. It was located at the foot of Washington Street on Paulus Hook to isolate the patients from the rest of the community. After the epidemic, the pest house was used as a county poorhouse until the development of Laurel Hill in 1861. On December 15, 1868, the Board of Aldermen of Jersey City reclaimed the pest house as a medical facility and named it the Jersey City Charity Hospital. True to its name, it provided free medical care with physicians who contributed their services.
When the Charity Hospital outgrew its usefulness to the community, the Board of Aldermen bought land at Baldwin Avenue and Montgomery Street in 1882 for a new hospital. The locale was chosen to remove the hospital from the industrial development at Paulus Hook. The hospital constructed at the time is the main center of the current Medical Center building. It was renamed the Jersey City Hospital in 1885 with 200 beds. However, the facility could not keep pace with the demands of the growing city. In 1909, the original hospital building was reserved for men and a second wing was added for women patients.
After Frank Hague became mayor in 1917, he planned to build an expanded facility that would attract the best physicians and staff for Jersey City residents. Hague renovated the original double-wing, six-story City Hospital building, and he erected a brand new 23-story structure for surgical cases. The new facility opened in 1931, and Dr. George O'Hanlon was the first director. With the assistance of the Works Progress Administration during the Depression, new buildings were added to the Jersey City Medical Center Complex. Hague's interest and pride in the medical facility resulted in the inclusion of an office in Murdoch Hall, which served as a second office away from City Hall. It is described as a mahogany paneled office with a concealed door to leave by the back hallway in the complex.
The Medical Center became the pride of the mayor and the city. Free health care was provided to those residents who could not afford to pay. It is claimed that during the Hague years, the hospital cost $3 million to operate annually, but in a year, such as 1929, it brought in less than $15,000 in payments. By 1934, it had 750 employees and treated approximately 900 patients daily. The formal dedication of the Medical Center Complex was on October 2, 1936, with President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Mayor Hague in attendance before a reported crowd of 200,000.
From the completion of the Medical Center in 1941, it was considered to be larger than necessary for the city's population, overstaffed, and fiscally irresponsible. In 1988, the Medical Center declared bankruptcy and became a private, nonprofit organization. In 1994, the State of New Jersey designated the Medical Center as a regional trauma center, and in the late 1990s it was approved as a core teaching affiliate of Mount Sinai School of Medicine and for open heart surgery. It was New Jersey's primary responder following the attacks at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.
The Pollak Hospital facility was formerly the site of a three-story building constructed in 1918 for the Jersey City School for Crippled Children (see A. Harry Moore School). It was taken over as the Infectious Disease Hospital and in 1934 received a loan of $2,996,000 by the Reconstruction Finance Corporation for a new county tuberculosis hospital. The 250-bed facility was eventually named for Dr. B.S. Pollak and became noted for the treatment of chest diseases.
The last structure built for the Medical Center Complex was the residence for graduate and student nurses at the Medical Center. Constructed in 1941, the seventeen-story Art Deco building housed the Center's School of Nursing, begun in 1907, and named for Jessie M. Murdoch, Director of Nurses and friend of Hague. The structure contained a gymnasium, swimming pool, and auditorium. Its main attraction, however, was an art modern lobby with marble staircase with glass and brass banister taking one to a circular mezzanine. An indoor crosswalk led the nurses to the Margaret Hague Maternity Hospital.
After 1966, Murdoch Hall was used by the Hudson County Human Services programs.
In 1993, the art deco building with its geometric design detail took center stage in the movie film Quiz Show, directed by Robert Redford. The film is based on the story of the 1950s television show Twenty-One and its contestant Charles Van Doren, a Columbia University professor.
Sections of the interior of Mudoch Hall provided Redford with a backdrop similar to the art deco of NBC's Rockefeller Center where the game show originated. To spruce up the longtime neglected building, approximately $25,000 was spent in preparation for the film production.
The new Jersey City
Medical Center, a private, nonprofit hospital, was dedicated on June 14,
2004. The $217 million structure was made possible through federal loan guarantees from the Federal
state grants, and municipal assistance. Governor James E. McGreevey, who
was born at the Margaret Hague Maternity Hospital, attended the ceremony.
The two buildings at the time were the seven-story steel and granite Wilzig
Hospital, named for the late Siggi B. Wilzig, a president of the former Trust
Company of New Jersey, and the Provident
Bank Ambulatory Center. The firm of RBSD Architects designed the 364,000
square foot acute care hospital and the 44,000 square foot ambulatory
care center in joint venture with Ballinger of Philadelphia. The Medical
Center is a major teaching affiliate of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine.
Rather than demolish the historic complex on Montgomery Street, the Jersey City Redevelopment Agency
sold the old Medical Center to Metrovest Equities of Manhattan in 2002 for $6.5 million to rehabilitate eight of the buildings for a projected cost of $350 million.
The complex, renamed The Beacon, will be refitted for 1,200 rental
and condominium apartments as well as commercial space and cultural venues.
George Filopoulos, president of Metrovest: "These structures could
never be rebuilt and nobody would try, because of the lavish amounts of
space--grand entrances and 25-foot ceilings, wide hallways with marble
walls, theater space and solariums, plus the ornate detail of the interior
and exterior" (Martin).
|By: Carmela Karnoutsos
Project Administrator: Patrick Shalhoub