The now defunct hospital is being transformed into luxury condos, and many believe that an office unearthed there by developers in 2005 belonged to a legendary politician: former Mayor Frank Hague.
From 1917 to 1947, "Boss" Hague is said to have ruled Jersey City with an iron fist. While he was never convicted of any crimes, he used his power over the police and fire departments to strengthen his base and build his patronage system in Jersey City.
And the old Jersey City Medical Center complex at Montgomery and Baldwin avenues was originally intended to be a symbol of his power, as he dedicated nearly 25 years of his administration to its expansion.
Hague put the medical center at the heart of his public-works agenda, and if city residents could not afford to pay for their treatment there, they were not charged.
The building was closed in 2004 so it could be turned into a residential complex called The Beacon. A year later, construction crews began unearthing unused rooms and stairwells that had been blocked off.
With mahogany walls, a terrazzo floor, and an ornate chandelier, the hidden office clearly served an important purpose before it was partitioned away years ago, only to be rediscovered in late 2005.
Interestingly, historians have spoken of a hidden office in the medical center used by Hague. Since it was walled off sometime in the last 25 years, the office has become a source of rumor - as much fact as fiction.
Ulana Zakalak, the historic consultant overseeing construction of the Beacon condonminiums, said she inferred the recently discovered office's provenance from its design.
"[Hague] had particular tastes in furnishings. Every space he seemed to occupy was wood-paneled in a certain way," Zakalak said. "So as soon as I saw this office, I just knew this had to be it. It's a very elaborate office for a hospital. And we knew he had an office on the first floor. It has to be it."
Charles Markey, who worked at the medical center in the 1970s, said that photos he has seen of the discovered office match his memories of a room where he sometimes used to conduct job interviews. At that time, the office was used by the Personnel Department, but Markey said it was "a well-known fact" that the office had once been Hague's.
'Secret' office, 'secret' stairwell
As Jersey City's longest-serving mayor and an influential politician on the national level, Hague and his reign have become the stuff of local lore.
For years, tales have been told of an office maintained by Hague at the medical center, where clandestine meetings took place with visitors arriving through a "hidden" doorway leading to a "secret" stairwell.
Even reputable historical sources sometimes preface their descriptions of the office and stairway as if they're not sure whether it really existed, lending the room an aura of myth.
So it's natural that certain parts of the story seem to have been embellished over time. There is, indeed, a back door there, but it may have just seemed hidden because it blends in with the wood-paneled walls.
But other parts of the story seem to have been confirmed by discoveries made during the restoration.
Across the hall from the Hague office, demolition crews discovered a small, walled-off space that once contained a stairwell. To access it, they had to break through a solid brick wall.
It is not clear whether the hidden stairwell is the one spoken of in local legend, since many alterations were made to the medical center in the 60 years since Hague was mayor.
Zakalak said many aspects of the building were changed over the years.
"Rooms had been rearranged," she said, "corridors had been rearranged, staircases had been closed off. And as we started going through the buildings, we found interesting spaces. There are interesting spaces throughout the entire hospital complex."
A second room near Hague's old office is being converted by the developers into a private reading lounge.
Will become poker room
The developer of the Beacon is the New York-based company Metrovest Equities.
George Filopoulos, president of Metrovest, said he plans to turn the opulent office into a poker room for the exclusive use of residents of The Beacon. Filopoulos said he hopes the room will evoke thoughts of the Hague era, with images of political dealings negotiated in smoke-filled backrooms.
"You think of Frank Hague and you think of those days, and you say, 'Hey... Let's make a poker room!' "
Filopoulos said. "There'll be a bar and a private lavatory back there. We've got great high-backed leather chairs that we purchased, a big plasma TV. It's going to be a real club feel."
The first residents of The Beacon are now moving in, Filopoulos said.
A historic hospital
In 1936, halfway through Hague's expansion of the medical center, President Franklin D. Roosevelt laid the cornerstone of a new building amid a cheering crowd that was reported to be larger than 200,000. Hague declared a city holiday for the event.
As grand as the medical center was - it was the third-largest hospital in the country at one point - it quickly became apparent that it was much too big for the city's needs.
It is said that during the Hague years, the medical center cost $3 million per year to operate, even though it brought in less than $1,500 in payments.
One by one, the complex's dozen buildings were closed, until in 2004 all operations were moved to a new facility on Grand Street.
Christopher Zinsli can be reached at email@example.com.