Getting old in Bloomingdale, Part III

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Posted on October 3rd, 2021 at 10:21 am by Carol Tannenhauser

For twenty years, the Bloomingdale Neighborhood History Group (BNHG) has sponsored research and education on the history of the Bloomingdale neighborhood on the Upper West Side of New York City. Bloomingdale is the name of the neighborhood from W. 96th to W. 110th Street between Central Park and Riverside Drive. This area has been known as “Bloomingdale” for over 300 years.

By Pam Tice, BNHG

This is the third of three contributions on the same topic. You can read Part I & II here and here.

The home for old men and elderly couples and the St. Lukes home for destitute women

Both houses, developed by New York’s Protestant Episcopal Church, were in Morningside Heights, north of our Bloomingdale neighborhood. They were both welcomed by the Reverend Dr. Isaac Tuttle, Rector of St. Luke’s Church. In 1852, at 543 Hudson Street, he established a women’s home for “gentlemen in reduced circumstances” for the first time. When more space was needed in 1859, the women were moved to a house next to the church at 487 Hudson Street. The Church ward and friends provided for all the needs of the home.

By 1872, the women’s refuge was relocated to Madison Avenue and 89th Street. Meanwhile, when the Rev. Tuttle saw the need for care of older men evolving, he established the Home for Older Men and Older Couples in the building at 487 Hudson Street. Men were “rescued from lonely misery” and old couples “Saved from the bitterness of separation”.

When construction began on St. John the Divine Cathedral in the 1890s, Episcopal Church moved both houses to the Morningside Heights neighborhood. The home for old men and elderly couples has been relocated to a new five-story building on Amsterdam Avenue and 112th Street on the northwest corner across from the cathedral. The land was purchased in 1897 and the house opened the following year. St. Luke’s Home for Aged Women was built in 1899 on 2914 Broadway on 114th Street. The home for old men and elderly couples had a Board of Lady Associates in addition to its regular board of directors.

Both homes required entry fees: in 1921 the fee was $ 500 for women at St. Luke’s, $ 400 for men, and $ 700 for a couple in the home for old men and elderly couples. Applicants had to have lived in the city for five years, 60 years or older, and be a member of one of the city’s Episcopal Churches.

The two houses only made headlines when a legacy was made or a fundraiser was held. Certain men who had careers in the clergy or in academia deserved an obituary in The New York Times. In fact, a description of the home states that it takes care of “people of the intellectual and business class”. St. Luke’s Home for Aged Women used the resident’s sewing skills to make clothes for the children of the Episcopal Church’s Sheltering Arms orphanage.

In 1928, the Diocese of Bishops hosted a fundraising dinner to start a campaign and announced a donation of $ 250,000. Your campaign to expand the home must have been successful because later, in the 1970s, when the home was closed, it consisted of two buildings.

In the 1970s, most likely due to the new federal regulations, St. Luke’s Home, along with the Peabody Home in the Bronx, another Episcopal Church Home, formed a corporation called Morningside House, which was not an Episcopal Church organization. Eventually they both moved to the same new building in the Bronx.

Meanwhile, the home for old men and older women was established separately from the Episcopal Church and eventually became the Amsterdam nursing home we have today. In 1970, a group of squatters took over the vacant buildings of the home on 112th Street for a period, looked after the building, and even convinced the Diocese of Episcopate to warm them up that winter. Two of the squatters interviewed in the Times said it was much better to sit there than their Manhattan Avenue accommodation near 100th Street.

Lynwood Nursing Home, 306 West 102nd Street

In the 1950s, another old people’s home was opened in Bloomingdale, the Lynwood Nursing Home, in a brownstone built in 1902. one listing described it as “proprietary”. It appears to have been in operation in the 1950s, based on obituaries in the New York Times for those who died there. It was in operation until the 1980s. The obituaries found were usually for actresses, lawyers, and writers, people who weren’t poor, and added a touch of nobility to the house. When the federal government began warning nursing home operators they were breaking regulations in 1974, Lynwood was on the list of warned. Today the site is an addict recovery home owned by St. Luke’s Hospital.

The infamous Towers Nursing Home
Writing about nursing homes in our neighborhood wouldn’t be complete without the events of the 1970s, when the nursing home scandal unfolded right here at the Towers Nursing Home in Central Park West on 106th Street. The distinctive round towers gave the building its name.

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Charles Haight’s stone building is a specialty in Bloomingdale as it was built in three sections for New York Cancer Hospital from 1884 to 1890. The health facility was later named The General Memorial Hospital for the Treatment of Cancer and Allied Diseases. When the hospital withdrew from the site in the 1950s, Rabbi Bernard Bergman turned it into a nursing home, one of many in his “syndicate” that has grown over the years. He also owned the Park Crescent on Riverside Drive and 87th Street and the Mayflower on West End Ave and 89th Street, both of which were former hotels that were being remodeled.

In a series of articles in the mid-1950s New York Times detailing population growth in the United States of the age 65+ *, the alarm suggests health costs that could wipe out a lifetime’s savings and the lack of adequate care facilities for the elderly. In the 1960s, Medicare and Medicaid were introduced, and then the nursing home business became one of the fastest growing in the United States.

Elderly people who had exhausted their resources were automatically enrolled in Medicaid. Government funding for retirement homes has been a challenge for the old-fashioned nonprofit homes in our neighborhood as they struggled to comply with the new rules. But for homes, the federal funds signed an opportunity for real estate development.

Bergman’s Towers Nursing Home at 2 West 106th Street was labeled “appalling” in the early 1970s, with fire traps, medical inattention, and filthy conditions, but Bergman’s ties with local lawmakers were strong. Somehow, he and other operators managed to move the inspection process from the city to New York State, where they had more control. John L. Hess of the the New York Times began regular drumming of stories in 1973 and 1974. The congregation member, Andrew Stein, was appointed by Governor Rockefeller to open an investigation that was soon linked to a further investigation by the US Senate. From this arose the whole story of the deception and administrative mismanagement of the operators of the Medicaid system, with the towers standing for everything that was wrong. The elderly abuse was almost a side story as the allegations against Bergman were financial: theft and tax evasion.

When Bergman’s property was sold to pay his debt to the state, the Towers were listed in 1976 but then stood empty for many years, an eyesore and a reminder of what had happened there.

The scandal of the 1970s changed the rules for running nursing homes, but now, years later, we may be on the fringes of the next group of elderly care facilities that need attention with “assisted living”. Since no federal funding is involved, supervision remains at the state level, where regulations vary widely.

Meanwhile, our society continues to grapple with caring for the frail elderly while transforming this period of human life into a fulfilling time.

* According to the article, every twelfth adult was over 65 years of age in 1955; today it is every seventh.

Read more columns on the Bloomingdale story here.

sources

Aging In America, Inc. “Serving the Elderly With Care and Compassion since 1852” (report at www.aginginamerica.org) (History of the Episcopal Church Institutions)

American Society on Aging, “A Brief History of Aging Services in the United States” (www.asaging.og / blog)

Association for the Relief of Respectable Aged Indigent Females, various annual reports (1814-1914), on microfilm in the New York Public Library

Association for the Relief of Respectable Aged Bedilted Women, Minute Books, etc. in the Rare Book Collection at Columbia University’s Butler Library

Pony, Mrs. Julia A. A historical outline of the Methodist Episcopal Home in New York City, New York, 1893 (accessed through Google Books)

Charity society, New York City Social and Health Authorities Directory, 1892 and Volume 30, 1921 (accessed via Google Books)

www.daytonianinmahattan.blogspot.com (Building on Hudson Street)

Newspaper archive at www.genealogybank.com

King, Moses, Kings Handbook of New York City, Boston, 1892 (accessed via Google books)

McClure, Mrs. Frank Newell, ed., The Methodist Church home for the elderly in New York City, JM Laverty & Son, New York, 1950 (accessed at www.archive.org, January 27, 2020)

Melder, Keith “Ladies Bountiful: Organized Benevolence of Women in Early 19th Century America” New York History, Volume 48, No. 3, July 1967

New York City Museum, photo collection

New York City Monument Conservation Commission, Manhattan Avenue Historic District, May 15, 2007

New-York Historical Society, Robert L. Bracklow Photograph Collection (digital access)

The New Jewish Home, Annual Report, 2018
The New York Times Archive, online

Richmond, Rev. JF New York and Institutions 1609-1873 (Google books)

US Dept. of Health and Human Services, Administration on Aging “2017 Profile of Older Americans” (accessed online February 2020)

Weiler, N. Sue “Religion, Ethnicity and the Development of Retirement Homes” Journal of American Ethnic History, Volume 12, No. 1, autumn 1992

Westside Federation for Senior and Supportive Housing “Red Oak Apartments”


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