Northern Dispensary—an Empty Building at the Heart of the West Village

Reflecting Greenwich Village’s highly irregular street patterns, one side of the triangular Northern Dispensary faces two streets (Christopher and Grove), while the other two sides form the corner of Waverly Place and . . . Waverly Place! And this is not even the strangest thing about the building.

The peculiar structure stands empty in one of the city’s most desirable locations. Why?

Apparently, a 19th-century ordinance required that this particular building could only be used for medical purposes. The deed also specified that there couldn’t be any obscene performances, no pornography, and no abortions on the premises.

The Northern Dispensary was founded in 1827 as a clinic for the poor and settled into its permanent home in 1831. Clinic’s most famous patient was the desolate and struggling Edgar Allan Poe who lived just a few doors down at 137 Waverly Place.

In the 20th century, the Northern Dispensary served for a while as a dental clinic. But after a man with AIDS sued for being refused treatment, the clinic was closed in the 1989.

The building was bought by a very interesting personality—Mr. Gottlieb. His shabby appearance could have easily fooled anyone into mistaking him for one of those poor souls seeking medical help from the Dispensary a century before. Unkempt and disheveled, he walked around the Village with his business papers in a shopping bag.

Despite his appearance, Mr. Gottlieb was quite a wealthy person. He had been buying gigantic amounts of real estate in the Village, the Meatpacking District, and the Lower East Side since the 1950s. He kept acquiring, but never sold! By the time he died in 1999, he had owned over 100 buildings in New York—together worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

The Northern Dispensary is now owned by William Gottlieb Real Estate, one of the largest real estate companies in Manhattan. The restrictions written in the site’s deed are so complicated that even seasoned NYC real estate experts cannot figure out what to do the building. It stands empty…

Location:  bordered by Christopher Street, Waverly Pl and Grove Street in the West Village

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