Friday, October 22, 2010

Metropolitan State Hospital, Waltham

(Continues from Metfern Cemetery, Waltham 2-2)

Now for rent.

Few thousand dollars a month.

A former psychiatric hospital is now available as apartment housing. The majority of the hospital wards was razed when renovating in 2007, but the chronic care ward somewhat keeps its original rectangular building layout and enclosed yard. Only the administration building named Dr. William F. McLaughlin Building is preserved, no, left to be abandoned for some reason.   

On the way back from Metfern Cemetery -- where the patients of Metropolitan State Hospital and Fernald State School between 1947 and 1979 are buried -- I dropped off by the former administration building. Metropolitan State Hospital was founded in 1927 and closed its door in 1992 as a part of privatization.

As I wrote above, the renovation started in 2007, now available as apartment for rent. The first time I came across the trend converting disused, architecturally imposing or intimidating asylums into condominiums was in Cork, Ireland, sometimes around in 2004.

While I was living in London for a brief moment of my life, I was surprised by the abandoned churches converted to luxury condos. Real estate industry was booming and I had an impression that every parcel of the land has to be utilized as something commercially viable. Realtors were aggressively speculating how their properties, or products, stand out from competitors, creating all the lifestyle psyche about living in somewhere historically significant. So they kicked out the homeless who sought abandoned churches as a shelter and built condos, nice one, too.

On the entrance: what are those wooden boards?
Looking above: oh, I see...
I'm not particularly a religious or spiritual person, but the concept of converting a church or any sort of hospital into housing complex puzzles me (note: it is my personal observation. At the end of the day, it is personal liberty to choose where to live. On the other hand, I also have a liberty to examine, hell it's interesting!) But why does it puzzle me? That's the question...

Church and hospital are closely related to death. No, they are believed to be closer than the rest (remember, I grew up in Hiroshima.) The distinction of life and death is sharply contrasted, and the two have to be separated. Why does the very sick have to face the moment of death in hospital? Why do people meet the deceased at a funeral home or church? Is a wake carried out in the US, or is it even possible to do so? As long as death is deemed as societal taboo that has to be separated from our everyday life, church and hospital are the most likely the place one meets the dead.

But the case with psychiatric hospitals is more puzzling. They are indeed more close to death than our everyday life; even at McLean Hospital -- a mental hospital for the elite and famous situated only a mile apart from the MSH -- bathroom mirrors are made of metal so that patients won't attempt killing themselves (from Gracefully Insane.) But there is something more about those redbrick buildings.

The very nature of the institution, if I dare to use an antiquated expression, confinement of the insane is the core of my feeling attached to these hospital buildings. Before the arrival of psychiatric medication, patients were physically separated from the rest of society for a long period of time or the rest of his/ her life.

But what is insanity? How do we define it? Single mothers of the 19th century (added on Dec. 18: it is more likely a case in the early 20th century. Please refer to: Our Lady's Hospital, Cork, Ireland.) were regarded as insane (as long as I know, it happened in the UK and Ireland.) The definition can be awfully changing depends on the time, place, and situation. Until recently, the identities -- faces and names -- of patients were left out to be sadly obscure in Massachusetts; like the gravestones with numbers, signifying that they are best to be kept as unknown as a taboo resembles to our notion of death.

The remain of Metropolitan State Hospital is historically and architecturally significant. But for me, it is heavily connected to indifference, injustice, sadness, and indescribable fear representated by the gravestones with numbers whose identities are reduced to either Catholic or Protestant.


  1. I live about 75 yards from this property. I drive through it often. I'll say this much there are days when this land can make the hairs on your neck stand. Nice blog about the place.


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