Monday, February 02, 2009

A working remnant of the Great Society

LBJ is a well-documented former president, but in spite of this (or perhaps because of it), his public image will forever by synonymous with his disastrous escalation of the Vietnam War. Though well-deserved, this reputation obscures the lasting good done by his "Great Society" programs, which included the establishment of Medicare and Medicaid, and the provision of millions of federal dollars to meet the basic needs of impoverished communities. Though his war was criminal folly, it should not be all we remember of the Southern-born President who proclaimed, from the United States Capitol, "We Shall Overcome."

With this in mind from a recent reading of Rick Perlstein's Nixonland, it brought a smile to my face to come across the Lyndon Baines Johnson Health Complex at Nostrand and Kosciusko. Built in 1968, presumably with federal money of some variety, the complex is a free clinic that serves Bed-Stuy with primary, dental, mental health, ob/gyn and substance abuse care. The clinic was part of a multi-million dollar effort to improve patient tracking for those with chronic conditions in 2006, and has been a regular participant in Brooklyn prez Marty Markowitz's yearly campaign to "Take Your Man to the Doctor."

The scars of Vietnam are long and ugly, and the unhappy after-effects of that war will doubtless outlive those souls who fought in it. Still, it must give the ghost of LBJ some small consolation to know that his name lives on a corner of Brooklyn as a beacon for those who are sick or in need.


  1. A wonderful resource, but I sometimes wonder whether whether it wasn't bad architecture that helped kill the Great Society.

  2. It really was an unfortunate time for big plans, given the architectural trends of the era. I think similar things of Bruce Springsteen albums from the 1980s: great rock songs bogged down in silly keyboard riffs. I suppose some things are products of their eras, and some endure in spite of them.

    As for medical centers of that vintage, there's another example of this sort of architecture in the photo journal I posted today. This one even incorporates teal.

  3. My Great Grandfather, an immigrant from Germany, lived in this building (minus the ugly facade) from 1892 to 1897. He lived upstairs with his family and ran a grocery store in the space below. Actually his address was 2761/2 Nostrand Ave. (the side with the smaller door on the left)