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Medical Center Complex/The Beacon
50 Baldwin Avenue and Montgomery Street
Northeast Corner of Bergen Lafayette Section, East of Mc Ginley Square
National Register of Historic Places
New Jersey Register of Historic Places

City Hospital, Jersey City NJ
Postcard circa 1910
Courtesy, Jersey City Free Public Library

Expanded City Hospital in foreground with new Jersey City Medical Center building in the background circa 1930.
Courtesy, Jersey City Free Public Library

Medical Center
Photo: A. Selvaggio, 2002

Medical Center Architectural Details
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.

The Medical 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.

The general architect was John T. Rowland, a native of Jersey City. He was also the architect for the Jersey City Board of Education. Christian H. Ziegler, who succeeded Rowland in the latter post, designed the Margaret Hague Maternity Hospital and Murdoch Hall. The Art Deco design for the buildings with stepped setbacks on the upper floors are decorated with terrazzo floors, marble lobbies, and glass and brass railings, as well as terra-cotta engravings of Egyptian and Greek motifs and floral patterns. All the city-run buildings were made fireproof, an advance in public safety for its day.

Medical Center
National Register of Historic Places

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.

City Hospital, Jersey City NJ
Postcard circa 1910
Courtesy, Jersey City Free Public Library

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.

B.S. Pollak Hospital - 100 Clifton Place

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. When completed in 1936, the 22-floor hospital, at 320 feet, was the tallest building in Jersey City until 1989 with the construction of Exchange Place Center at 490 feet.

Murdoch Hall

Interior view of the restored Murdoch Hall
Photo: C. Karnoutsos, 2006

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 Murdoch 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.

New Developments

Architectural rendering of the new Jersey City Medical Center near Grand Street and Jersey Avenue
Courtesy, Cynthia Harris

In 1991, the Jersey City Medical Center merged with the Greenville Hospital at 1825 Kennedy Boulevard to form the Liberty HealthCare Systems, a consortium of affiliate hospitals in Hudson County. It was New Jersey's primary care responder in the aftermath of the attacks on the Twin Towers at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. The following November, construction began for a new medical complex: Liberty Health/Jersey City Medical Center on a 15-acre campus at the intersection of Grand Street (355) and Jersey Avenue. The site is in view of New York Harbor and Liberty State Park and is accessible from the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail Jersey Avenue Station.

The new Jersey City Medical Center, a private, nonprofit hospital with 316 beds, was dedicated on June 14, 2004. The $217 million structure was made possible through federal loan guarantees from the Federal Housing Administration, 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. In 2013, it joined the Barnabas Health system that includes Clara Maass Medical Center in Belleville, St. Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, and Newark Beth Israel Medical Center.

The LibertyHealth Systems has expanded in the Jersey City community. In 2011, it purchased the Jersey City Museum building 350 Montgomery Street, using the second and third floors for offices; and, in 2012, it leased the former Greenville Hospital at 1825 Kennedy Boulevard from Community Healthcare Associates for an outpatient medical facility.

The Beacon

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, has been rehabilitated into 1,200 rental and condominium apartments as well as commercial space and cultural venues. According to 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). In 2009, the readaptation of The Beacon was named "Project of the Year" by the NJ District Council of the Urban Land Institute.

Filopoulos renovated two of the towers, the Rialto and the Capital, into condominiums, costing over $100 million. In 2012, after the economic downturn in the real estate market of the previous years, Filopoulos sold five of the undeveloped buildings at The Beacon to the Connecticut firm of Building and Land Technology for $46 million. The following year, the NJ Economic Department Authority granted tax credits of $33 million towards the second phase of the ongoing redevelopment of the properties into luxury rental apartments and commercial space. The additional rental properties are the Orpheum Grand, the Mercury, the Paramount, and the Tower at The Beacon.


Upon completion, The Beacon will become New Jersey's largest example of Art Deco-style architecture, adhering to the state and national registers' guidelines for its historic preservation.

References:

Avery, Brett. "The Hospital That Made a City Sick." New Jersey Monthly March 2005:76-78+.
Donohue, Brian. "Rebirth of a Landmark." Sunday Star-Ledger 11 June 2005.
Hack, Charles. "Plan New Use for Greenville Hosp [sic]." Jersey Journal 1 August 2012.
Martin, Antoinette Martin. "A New Lease on Life for Jersey City Complex." New York Times 27 February 2005.
"Medical Center Is to Become Apartments." New York Times 26 October 2003.
Smothers, Ronald. "With Pride and Warmth, Jersey City Welcomes New Hospital." New York Times 15 June 2004.
Vernon, Leonard F. Images of America: Jersey City Medical Center. Portsmouth, NH: Arcadia Publishing, 2004.
Wright, E. Assata. "Beacon Abatements Approved." Jersey City Reporter 2 December 2012.


By: Carmela Karnoutsos
Project Administrator: Patrick Shalhoub