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231 East 22nd Street, Suite 23 New York NY 10010

Fax: +88 (0) 202 0000 001

Smallpox Hospital — The Renwick Ruin

Location: Southpoint Park, Roosevelt Island, NY

Landmark Status: NYC Individual Landmark; National Register of Historic Places

Client: Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation

Date(s) of Construction: 1854-1856, 1903-1905

Date of Restoration: 2011-2012



The Smallpox Hospital holds a special place in the architectural heritage of New York City and the history of urban medical treatment and training. Designed by renowned architect James Renwick, Jr. and constructed on the southern edge of Blackwell’s (now Roosevelt) Island in 1854-56, it was the first major hospital in the country dedicated to the treatment of smallpox. Far from being a utilitarian structure, it exemplified the Gothic Revival style for which Renwick became so well known, with gneiss (similar to granite) veneer quarried on the island, crenelated parapets, and pointed-arch window openings.


Thirty years after the hospital was constructed, it was renovated to serve its second purpose as a residence for nursing students. Two wings were added to the “Nurses Home” in 1903-05, mimicking the original façade configurations and exterior materials almost exactly. Abandonment of the building in the 1950s eventually led to the collapse or removal of the roof structure, much of the floor structure and interior walls, and sections of the exterior walls. As vegetation took over the remaining structure, several campaigns of emergency repairs and temporary stabilization efforts were executed over the decades.


In 2015, Walter B. Melvin Architects, LLC was retained for a multi-phase project to permanently stabilize the Smallpox Hospital ruin and restore public access. Phase I included review of previous reports/drawings and archival research to inform the full history of the site, as well as a laser scan of the ruin. Phase 2 comprised a survey of existing conditions at the exterior and interior architecture, structure and site, with in-depth field investigations and probes. Phase 3 included preparation of a comprehensive existing conditions survey report and drawing set, along with a prioritization plan of recommended repairs. Phase 4 concluded the study with schematic design documents and a preliminary cost estimate for the structural stabilization of the ruin.


The ultimate goal of current and future studies is to allow safe access of the site by the public, who would experience the ruin not as pristinely restored or as modified by modern materials, but as a well maintained landmark expressing its full age and history.


998 Fifth Avenue is a 12-story, limestone-clad apartment house that was designed in the Renaissance Revival style by the renowned architectural firm of McKim, Mead & White. Located across from the Metropolitan Museum of Art on the northeast corner of East 81st Street, it was the first apartment house constructed on upper Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. Upon its completion in 1912, the building was recognized as a benchmark of restrained elegance in apartment house design and was regarded as the most expensive and exclusive multi-family home in the city.