NYC Oddities: Smallpox Hospital Ruins

Non-native New Yorkers might remember the nighttime cab ride down the FDR when they first saw it, the lit-up horror story-esque building on Roosevelt Island. At night, the decidedly out-of-place structure is eery and hauntingly beautiful, a relic framed by modernity from every vantage point.

It’s been a favorite of mine ever since I discovered it years ago. I had pressed my face to the window of the cab trying to decipher exactly what it was I was seeing, amazed that an old, gutted, romantic edifice could have been preserved intact on an island in the middle of the East River. That it was illuminated for dramatic effect made it that much more compelling.

The stone Gothic Revival structure was designed by James Renwick, Jr. and completed in 1856 on then Blackwell’s Island. It served as a smallpox hospital during a time when the disease was still an epidemic in New York City. The hospital’s location allowed for easier quarantine of infected patients.

In 1976 the ruin was declared a landmark by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. After a section of the northern facade crumbled in 2007, $4.5 million was delegated to preserve the structure and prevent further collapse, according to the New York Times.

The site, also know as the Renwick Ruin, sits at the northern edge of the recently completed FDR Four Freedoms Park. The building is set to become the park’s visitors center. I paid a visit on a recent picturesque afternoon, noting how blue skies and sunlight created an incongruous scene. The ruin begs for twilight or ominous cloud-cover.

The ruins on a recent afternoon

The ruins on a recent afternoon


A close-up nighttime view of the former hospital in 2007, before the recent preservation efforts

(Image via ejimford,; made available under Creative Commons license)

Favorite Museum Rooms

Museums can be overwhelming. So much to see, but only a limited amount of true art-appreciating energy to expend.

Though I adore them, I’m a believer in the fact that you can’t spend more than two hours (and even that’s pushing it) in any one museum on a given day without art fatigue setting in.

To help out, I’ve compiled a list of my favorite museum spaces in the city, the ones I come back to and savor, again and again. And the best part is: each can be fully appreciated in 20 minutes or less.

Neue Galerie New York, Klimt Gallery, second floor, center: This room of turn-of-the-20th-century Viennese art showcases both decorative and fine art pieces, including some of my all-time-favorite paintings by Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele. The museum’s pièce de résistance, Klimt’s Adele Bloch Bauer I portrait, anchors the space.

Klimt Gallery

Klimt Gallery

Image courtesy of Neue Galerie New York

MoMA, The Alfred H. Barr, Jr. Painting and Sculpture Galleries, fifth floor: This permanent collection showcases works by beloved artists like James Ensor, Paul Cezanne, Vasily Kandinsky, Pablo Picasso and Vincent Van Gogh. Don’t miss your chance to see the world-famous Starry Night in person. 

Picasso paintings at MoMA

Picasso paintings at MoMA

(Image via ana carina lauriano,; made available under Creative Commons license)

The Met, The Annenberg Collection, second floor, south side: An embarrassment of riches, this collection housed in nine gallery rooms features some of the world’s most acclaimed Impressionist and post-Impressionist works by artists like Monet, Renoir, Degas and Manet.

A room filled with Monet's waterlillies

Monet’s Waterlillies

Brooklyn Museum, American Identities: A New Look Look, Modern, fifth floor: An eclectic, expertly curated collection of 20th century design, sculpture and paintings by American artists.

American artists at the Brooklyn Museum

American artists at the Brooklyn Museum

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