A Look Back at Flatbush’s Small Hospital for Cradle to Grave Medical Care

Editor’s note: This story originally ran in 2015 and has been updated. You can read the previous post here.

The first Midwood Sanatorium was a four-story wood frame built at this location, 19 Winthrop Street, near the corner of Flatbush Avenue in what is now Prospect Lefferts Gardens.

Like many small hospitals, the building was probably a private house repurposed as a sanatorium. Period maps show the grounds of the hospital were quite large, as the buildings now on Flatbush Avenue weren’t there then. Northern Flatbush was just starting to see real urban style development, and only blocks away the row houses of Lefferts Manor were being built. The neighborhood, then known as Flatbush, needed a private hospital, and Midwood opened its doors in 1907.

brooklyn architecture

The site in 1916. Map by E.B. Hyde & Co. via New York Public Library

The word “sanatorium” brings to mind a mental hospital or a place where private patients could have quiet surgeries or recover from embarrassing things like out-of-wedlock pregnancies, but the word as Americans use it usually meant a hospital for long-term stays, generally because of tuberculosis. The words “sanatorium” and “sanitarium” are interchangeable.

midwood sanitorium

Brooklyn had quite a few private sanatoria, but from the entries in the papers regarding this hospital, it seems to have been more of a regular hospital for the area. If anything, it seemed to specialize in obstetrics and also longer term conditions. Cradle to grave, as it were. Nearby Kings County Hospital was not in existence yet. That institution was still the city’s almshouse in 1907. Caledonia Hospital had not yet been established at that time either.

midwood sanitorium

Unfortunately for the community, the building seemed to catch fire a lot. Between opening and 1929, they had four serious fires. The last, a fire that started on the roof and top floor in 1928, caused an evacuation of 34 adult patients and 12 babies plus staff. The entire fourth floor and roof were beyond repair. That was it for the trustees, and they began to advocate for a new fireproof brick and stone building.

They hired a little-known architect named Philip M. Erickson to design a new hospital. This may have been his largest project. He provided them with a nice, respectable Colonial Revival building which could hold considerably more patients and staff.

midwood sanitorium

It was finished in 1929, and immediately began accepting patients. The new hospital had 57 beds and its top floor was reserved for surgeries. The offices and examining rooms of the obstetrics department were up there, as were the operating rooms.

One of the highlights of the new facilities was the painting of the walls of the rooms in bright and cheery colors. It was thought that such stimulation would promote clearness of breath and lungs. Plus it was a relief from endless white walls.

19 winthrop

Mr. and Mrs. Diamond in front of the building in 1954. Photo via Old Memories of Brooklyn

The Midwood Sanatorium, or Midwood Hospital, cared for Flatbush patients for many years. The births and deaths of patients, the death or retirement of staff members, doctors and nurses over the years were dutifully reported in the papers. Many people born in the 1950s who comment on local Flatbush blogs and Brooklyn memory Facebook pages were born there. One posted a photo of his parents standing in front of the building in 1954.

The facility didn’t close down until the late 1970s. According to a few sources, this was the site of the St. Johns Elementary School, a private school, from 1979 to 2000. Today, it’s one of the health and social service resources of CAMBA, the city’s largest nonprofit social services entity.

[Photos by Susan De Vries unless noted otherwise]

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