By the late 1950s, many of the historically rich structures of Welfare Island were in tragic states of disrepair. Buildings flooded often, roofs caved in, and windows were broken. In 1970, the New York State Urban Development Corporation, the State agency that once operated and maintained the island, contracted with renowned New York historic preservation architect, Giorgio Cavaglieri, FAIA (1911-2007), to structurally assess seven historic landmarks on the island. Cavaglieri’s report, titled Protection of Landmark Buildings, provided New York State with detailed photographs and recommendations for improvements that would both stabilize and preserve these structures for years to come. (The City Hospital, sadly, which was also designed by James Renwick, Jr., fell into even greater decay by the 1980s and 1990s. It was eventually deemed a hazard by the State and it was razed in 1994. Find a more detailed history of the City Hospital building here.)
Upon review of the seven buildings, see Cavaglieri’s map showing their respective locations on the island, the architect specified that a team of contractors immediately:
review each building and collect all fallen architectural details like “cornices or tiles or similar decorative fragments or stone pieces or… plaques with lettering or decorative motifs” for further historic review
properly grade soil around the structures to help with water run-off and prevent further flooding
board-up all broken windows to ensure rain water and debris not enter the structures
shore and brace walls that show signs of collapse
seal all roofs and clear gutters to prevent further flooding
Cavaglieri provided a more detailed review of the Smallpox Hospital, which he stated, was “in a very bad state of disrepair.” For this building, whose roof was beyond mending, the architect recommended that the collapsed wall on the west façade be shored with a new wall constructed of concrete masonry unit blocks and that the ironwork be removed from the structure’s balconies and stored inside the building. The concrete masonry unit wall still exists today. It is unclear, however, if any of the building’s original ironwork is still somewhere within the building’s core or if it was later disposed of.
Cavaglieri provided in his report five black-and-white photographs of the crumbling structure which were keyed to an approximately scaled drawing of the building.
Cavaglieri was considered one of the ablest preservationists in New York City. His work with the New York State Urban Development Corporation went very far toward stabilizing these significant structures.