The Northern Dispensary (Winter 2005)

Across the street from my apartment when I lived in New York from 2004 through 2006 was a vacant building known as the Northern Dispensary. Founded as a hospice for the poor in 1827, this wedge-shaped landmark was a West Village oddity as it sat the point at which two branches of Waverly Place come together and where Christopher Street and Grove Street diverge off Christopher Park.

Throughout its existence the Northern Dispensary went through several incarnations and housed a number of disparate lives. Edgar Allan Poe was once treated for a head cold here in 1836. In 1960, the Dispensary was transformed into a dental clinic, one that would eventually become infamous for refusing to treat a HIV-patient in 1986. A lawsuit and bankruptcy followed shortly thereafter.

When I lived in New York, Gottlieb Real Estate owned the building. Its founder, William Gottlieb, left the Dispensary to his sister when he passed in 1999. William had the reputation of never selling his properties nor investing more than the minimum in restoration and management. This tradition was successfully upheld by his sister. The interior was nothing but chipped white walls, and torn down medical cabinets remained in the middle of some rooms. Given the building’s history and setting, the Gottlieb family could have made a fortune if they’d converted Dispensary into apartments, but it remained empty.

Sometimes at night I heard sounds from the Dispensary—glass shattering, fights, drunken screaming. And then, one day, I saw something.

It was a Saturday afternoon, and I was still lying in bed from the previous night’s heavy drinking. I was alone. My roommates were out of town. I got up, twisted open my blinds, and squinted out the window. The snow from the night before had stopped, but Waverly was still covered in white. Soaking in the scene when, I saw her. She was standing on the corner ledge of the Dispensary, staring down onto the street where Waverly intersects with Waverly. Was she getting ready to jump? And if so, who commits suicide by jumping off a three-story building? She did not inch forward. She did not back away. I couldn’t find it in myself to make her stop whatever she was doing. Then again, what could I have done?

A siren went off in the distance. She looked towards Sixth Avenue then turned forward, looking in my direction. Though I knew she didn’t see me, it chilled me just the same. She dipped her head and stepped away from the ledge, out of my view of the Dispensary.

That was the last I saw of her. It was not the last time I thought of her.