In the nineteenth century, tuberculosis was known as the "the white plague" and was the second most common cause of death in New York City. Two strains of the disease infacted humans; bovine and pulmonary. Bovine tuberculosis could be transfered to humans via cow's milk and would attack the bones, while pulmonary tuberculosis was an airborne strain that attacked the lungs.
Tuberculosis was incredibly contagious due to the fact that an infected person could spread the disease each time they coughed or spoke. The disease was also very difficult to treat because many people never experienced symptoms at all. Those who were infected with the disease would lose their appetite, cough severely, run a fever and have difficulty breathing. As the disease progressed towards the final stages, the the lung tissue would break up and be coughed up as the body shut down. As a result, patients would experience hollow faces with recessed eyes and watch their body wither away.
For many years, there was no medication to help ail the ill, but most doctors treated patients by prescribing a change of location, fresh air, rest and mild exercise. This required the patients to be removed from their homes and placed in a Sanatorium.
Pavillion Construction & Design
In 1903, the state of New York recognized that most people suffering from tuberculosis were living in the tight quarters of dark and poorly ventilated buildings, causing their condition to worsen. For this reason, the city began construction of a tuberculosis sanatorium. The location for the hospital was selected based on drainage, the surrounding woodland and a high elevation where a breeze blew.
Three designs were proposed for the hospital, all of which included buildings arranged symmetrically around a central building, but Architect Raymond F. Almirall's design was chosen for the campus. The hospital was constructed in three phases, the first of which began in 1909. It included the construction of eight Mission Revival style patient pavilions, an administration building, staff house, nurse residences, kitchen, dining hall and power station.
The four story pavillions were constructed in a fan-like formation to allow for maximum sunlight and ventilation. The buildings were south-facing and contained large open day rooms and porches that could hold a majority of the patients at one time. Of the eight patient pavilions constructed, four were designated as female wards, four as male wards. Buildings 1, 3 and 4 were the general female wards and Building 2 was the private ward.
All the pavillions were adorned with terra cotta murals. Almirall himself sketched the murals by hand and each one depicted nurses and doctors caring for patients surrounded by other detail including teal sea shells. While it was common for many buildings in the area to have terra cotta ornamentation, the material and technique used on the murals at this hospital were rare. The terra cotta was constructed by a Holland-based company and designed using the technique known as sectile, which means the terra cotta pieces were made to fit the curves of the design, rather than being constructed with square tiles and straight lines. This method only lasted for ten years and by 1910, the technique was no longer used.
By the 1920's, the sanatorium became overcrowded due to an increase in infection rates. Open air cottages, a group building, a dining building and additonal dormitories had been constructed to help dampen the impact, but by the 1930's, the hospital's patient population soared again and this time it peaked above 2,000. Construction was continuing and a Children's Hospital and expansion to the nurse quarters began.
In 1935, Adolph Mertin designed the children's hospital, a six-story building, constructed on a fairly isolated part of the campus, with wings on each floor, open air porches and curved solariums. The building was constructed with cream colored brick and contained a series of circular ramps leading to a portico entrance on the third floor of the hospital. This building was the last tuberculosis related building constructed on the campus.