Mount Sinai mulls sale of 120-year-old ‘Godfather’ hospital
Don Corleone narrowly escaped getting whacked in his hospital bed – but the historic medical building where it was staged might not be so lucky.
The New York Eye and Ear Infirmary in the East Village, part of Mount Sinai Health System, might be sold and demolished for a new building, worried doctors and staff members told The Post.
The 1902 building at 218 Second Ave., between East 13th and 14th streets – which was the setting for Al Pacino’s rescue of Marlon Brando in “The Godfather” – is at the center of a three-way drama involving medical care, historic preservation and a potential real estate windfall. (Pacino himself has actually been a patient there in recent years, insiders said.)
Mount Sinai merged with the Infirmary’s former owner, Continuum Health, in 2013, and has exercised increasing control of Eye and Ear ever since, sources said.
In the interest of “streamlining” and reducing costs, Mount Sinai is gradually moving surgery, clinical, ambulatory and other departments to locations it has around Manhattan – a claim which Sinai did not dispute.
Some doctors said the stealthy process will ruin the “synergy” of having all the functions in one spot and diminish patient care.
They fear that Mount Sinai will eventually empty the old building and an adjacent one built in the 1960s at 310 E. 14th St. to clear the way for a lucrative sale to a developer.
One doctor who didn’t want to be named said, “Mount Sinai is going to close this building and make whatever they can on it.”
Aware that Mount Sinai’s plans endangered the building, Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation director Andrew Berman wrote to Mayor Eric Adams and Landmarks Preservation Commission chair Sarah Carroll last month to urge designating 218 Second Ave. as a city landmark.
He was joined by State Sen. Brad Hoylman and Assembly member Harvey Shapiro. Landmarking would prevent an owner from demolishing or altering the building without LPC approval.
The Infirmary buildings at risk take up about 35,000 square feet of land. The site is zoned for residential development with floor space of up to six times the ground area – meaning a new building could have up to 210,000 square feet of floor area.
Based on an average of recent Manhattan sales of residential air space of $ 250-350 per square foot, the Infirmary-owned land could fetch in the neighborhood of $ 70 million, real estate sources said.
Sources said that the Infirmary might lose in excess of $ 20 million this year.
One insider said that Mount Sinai has been “surgically chopping up” the Infirmary for more than a year. The number of operating rooms is being reduced from 18 to nine.
Dr. Douglas F. Buxton has practiced eye surgery at the Infirmary since 1983. He said, “They are effectively evicting me” by the end of 2024.
He lamented the “fragmenting” of a “self-contained facility for eye diseases on one campus where all the subspecialties were in one building, which was unique.”
Mount Sinai declined to respond to questions about its plans for the Infirmary buildings and whether it would support landmarking 218 Second Ave., a weathered but handsome six-story structure of stone and brick where Helen Keller delivered the dedication speech in 1902.
But in a recent video conference for senior staff, Infirmary president Dr. James Tsai discussed relocations planned for Eye and Ear’s surgery department, faculty practice, emergency room, research facilities and other units to Manhattan satellite sites owned by Sinai. They include the Beth Israel campus on First Avenue at 17th Street, 1115 Broadway and 10 Union Square East.
“All this is being done very stealthily, a slow roll,” said an insider. “They don’t want to draw attention to it. When you scatter all the functions, it really is not New York Eye and Ear any more. ”
Joseph Burkart, a former Infirmary board chairman who remains in close touch with physicians there, said that breaking up the Infirmary “destroys what was a very important hospital for hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers.”
He said that spreading the Infirmary’s units around town means that “people will no longer be coming to a hospital, but to a small facility [elsewhere] with a few doctors. The inter-departmental synergy that the Infirmary has always provided will be lost. ”
Said another currently practicing doctor, “They have alienated people to make them leave. Some big surgeons have left. I think their goal is to weaken the institution so they can say they have to close. ”