Photo Ed Gunts

James “Diamond Jim” Brady was a colorful New York railroad tycoon known for his love of flashy jewelry, which he called “my pets” and wore on every article of clothing, even his underwear. He also suffered with prostate problems and diabetes.

In the early 1900s he went to the best hospitals in New York and New England in search of a cure for his ailments, but all of them turned him away. Then he visited the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore and was treated successfully.

Brady was so grateful that he gave Hopkins $220,000–worth millions today–so it could help other patients the way it helped him. The result was the first dedicated hospital for urology in the United States, the James Buchanan Brady Urological Institute, and a seven-story building to house it, the Brady Building, which opened in 1915. 

Located at 1770 E. Monument St., the Brady Building stands today as one of the oldest structures on Hopkins’ East Baltimore medical campus, and one of the first named after a patient rather than a doctor or administrator.

Brady’s gift represented one of the largest donations to Hopkins since the $7 million bequest from its founder.

Another large gift came from Harriet Lane Johnston, the niece of President James Buchanan and widow of banker Henry Johnston, who gave Hopkins more than $400,000 in 1903 in memory of two sons who died in childhood. Hopkins used her gift to build the Harriett Lane Home for Invalid Children, the first hospital in the nation devoted to children.

For years, Brady’s portrait was displayed in the building’s lobby as a reminder of his donation. It was the second largest portrait of a single individual at the hospital, after one of Johns Hopkins. Today, a smaller version is shown in a timeline of “highlights, milestones, discoveries” on a main corridor within the hospital. Newspaper writer H. L. Mencken counted “no less than nine gorgeous diamonds” in the portrait, including one that was three-quarters of an inch in diameter.

“This monster is in ‘white satin necktie,’” Mencken observed in an article. “Another, almost as large, is in a ring on his left hand. Two more appear in what is to be seen of his watch-chain. The remaining five glitter from the buttons of his waistcoast, which bulges beautifully over the noble arc of his equator.”

One hundred and thirteen years after it opened, this brick-and-mortar reminder of Hopkins’ beginnings and Brady’s generosity may soon disappear. Hopkins has applied to the city for a permit to demolish the Brady Building to make way for a new structure. The building’s occupants have been relocated, the loading dock has been closed and the building has been fenced off while the interior is gutted in preparation for the wrecking ball.

According to Sally MacConnell, senior vice president in charge of facilities for the Johns Hopkins Health System and vice president of facilities for the hospital, Hopkins wants to replace the Brady building with an extension of the adjacent Children’s Medical and Surgical Centerbuilding (CMSC) and is currently working on conceptual plans and schematics. She did not provide a budget or construction timetable for the proposed replacement.

CMSC opened in 1964, the first building at the hospital in which a relative could stay overnight at the patient’s bedside. No longer occupied by pediatric patients, it has most recently housed a variety of uses, including faculty offices and research labs.

An addition to CMSC would be one of the first new buildings to rise on the main campus since the Charlotte R. Bloomberg and Sheikh Zayed towers opened along Orleans Street in 2012 and the Skip Viragh Outpatient Cancer Building opened on Broadway. It would also be one of the first demolitions in many years of one of Hopkins’ older structures.

Despite its history as the first U.S. home of a then-new branch of medicine, and the link with its famous namesake and benefactor, the Brady Building is not protected from demolition by local or national landmark status. Only three structures on Hopkins’ medical campus are listed on the National Register of Historic Places: the domed Billings administration building, and the Marburg and Wilmer buildings, all on Broadway. A fourth, the Henry Phipps Psychiatric Clinic, where Zelda Fitzgerald and others were treated, was renovated for office use after preservationists questioned an earlier Hopkins plan to tear it down.

Hopkins spokeswoman Helen Jones referred questions about the demolition request and the replacement project to Kim Hoppe, director of public relations and corporate communications for Johns Hopkins Medicine, and Ken Willis, assistant director. They did not respond to requests for information.

Baltimore’s housing department has issued permits for interior demolition work, which is underway. According to housing officials, the city has not issued a demolition permit for the structure itself but is reviewing Hopkins’ application. Berg Corporation would be the demolition contractor, according to a sign on the building.

Thomas Harcum, an inspector with the housing department, said he can understand why Hopkins wants to take down the Brady building. The 1915 structure does not occupy the entire site, and Hopkins would have a larger footprint to build a replacement if it can use the loading dock and build out to the street, he said. Constructing a new building may also be less expensive than retrofitting a 113-year-old structure, he added. “It makes a lot of sense.”

Harcum noted this demolition is challenging because the Brady building is so close to other structures, including buildings where patients receive care. He said demolition work can add dust and debris to the air, and that could be especially harmful to people with respiratory problems. He also noted that the Brady Building is close to Monument Street, where cars and people pass by throughout the day.

Harcum said the housing department wants to be sure patients and staff are protected during any demolition, and he suggested that parts of the adjoining hospital may need to be evacuated while work is underway. He also said the sidewalk on the south side of Monument Street needs to be closed, which it has been, partially. If adequate precautions aren’t taken to protect the public, he said, “someone could get killed.”

Hopkins has at least one recent precedent for evacuating part of the hospital because of construction activity. During renovation work in the Meyer Building several years ago, Hopkins temporarily relocated psychiatry and behavioral sciences patients so they wouldn’t be disturbed by construction-related sounds on other floors.

Tammy Hawley, chief of strategic communications for Baltimore’s housing department, said the city has stringent guidelines that demolition contractors must follow to protect the public and dispose of debris in accordance with the city’s sustainability standards. She provided a statement from Berg that outlines the steps it would take to meet the city’s requirements.

Preservationists, meanwhile, say they weren’t aware of Hopkins’ demolition plans. Representatives from Baltimore’s Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation noted that the city agency would not necessarily be alerted to the demolition plan because the building does not have local landmark status, which would give CHAP authority to review and approve Hopkins’ plans.

The building’s history is well documented in Hopkins publications and biographies of Brady. The accounts describe a structure that is significant for the pioneering work that took place there, as well as its connection to a wealthy businessman.

“The first urology department in the United States–and only the second in the world–set up to provide patient care backed by clinical and basic research, the Brady Urological Institute quickly becomes a leading urology center and one of the main referral centers for prostate care,” the timeline in the hospital states.

Brady (1856-1917) was hardly the most upstanding of New Yorkers. To the contrary, he was known as much for a voracious sexual appetite as for the diamonds he wore. He was like a Gilded Age version of the modern day film mogul Harvey Weinstein, one of the first corporate executives brought down by the #MeToo movement, with more than a little Trumpesque hedonism thrown in.

A panel on the history of the Brady Building at Johns Hopkins. Photo by Ed Gunts.

Born in New York City, the son of Irish immigrants, Brady was a self-made millionaire who never married but was well known for being the first New Yorker to own an automobile and for his longtime relationship with the actress and singer Lillian Russell. His reputation was heightened by the publication of a 1934 biography, the release of a 1935 movie by Preston Sturges entitled “Diamond Jim,” and a 1940 movie, “Lillian Russell.” He is thought to have been the inspiration for the character of “Big Jim” in the Bob Dylan song, “Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts.”

Brady’s gastronomic habits were also legendary, and reportedly contributed to the health problems that led him to Hopkins. He had a reputation for eating so much that a gourmet restaurant chain, Lawry’s Prime Rib, named a steak dinner after him. After he died, doctors discovered that his stomach was six times the size of that of an average man.

“His superhuman appetite established him as the ‘greatest eater’ of the late 19th century America’s Gilded Age,” according to Lawry’s’ website. “It was said that in one sitting he could put away enough food to feed ten people. A midday snack alone might include three dozen oysters, six lobsters, turtle soup, a steak and a two pounds of bonbons for dessert.”

In its timeline, Hopkins says Brady’s doctor, Hugh Young, came to be known as “the father of modern urology,” which is the branch of medicine that focuses on the function and disorders of the urinary system in males and females, and the male reproductive organs.

According to Hopkins’ timeline, Young is credited with performing the first radical prostatectomy in the world and playing a lead role in transforming urology into a major surgical specialty. He also developed the first residency in urology and founded the Journal of Urology.

The Brady Building was designed by George Archer of Archer & Allen architects, a firm that designed several other buildings for Hopkins. Archer’s residential masterpieces included the white marble Graham-Hughes residence at the southwest corner of N. Charles and W. Madison streets in Mount Vernon, and the town house at 6 W. Mount Vernon Place. The Brady Building consisted of seven stories and a basement, with an exterior of brick and stone; its construction cost $200,000.

When it opened, the Brady Building contained beds for about 60 patients, plus labs, clinics and waiting areas. The basement had rooms for “animal experimentation.” Interns lived on the sixth floor.

The Urological Institute was so successful that it was later moved from the Brady Building to another building on the medical campus. Most recently, the Brady Building was used to house employees from a series of medical departments, including radiology, oral surgery, neonatology, infectious disease and nephrology.

In all, the Hopkins medical campus contains about 5 million square feet of space for teaching and research and another 5 million square feet for patient care. The Brady Building is one of several older structures along Monument Street that Hopkins planners have identified as possible candidates for demolition and new construction. Others include the Carnegie Building and Halsted/Osler, also steeped in Hopkins history.

City housing officials say they won’t issue a demolition permit for the Brady Building until they visit the site and are certain that the public will be protected. As of mid December, a date for the site visit had not been scheduled, Hawley said.

Ed Gunts is a local freelance writer and the former architecture critic for The Baltimore Sun.

One reply on “Hopkins Hospital wants to tear down Brady Building for a larger replacement”

  1. Hopkins Hospital and Uni of MD are pariahs of the the city. They have a Trump like ego which bulldoze anything in their never ending quest to grow. The city government is spineless and allows them to do as they pleas and even will use public finds to commandeer land so small fry property owners will not jack up their selling price. These institutions are out of control and have no regard for the city or its history. ALL they see is cheap land.

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