Monday, January 26, 2009

The Samuel R. Smith Infirmary



The current state Samuel R. Smith Infirmary building tells a sad story which highlights the failures of the Landmarks Preservation Commission, as well as the generally sad state of historic preservation in general.

In 1861, a one-room infirmary was founded on Staten Island. It was the first private hospital on the island; the population at the time was 25,000. The infirmary was named in honor of Samuel R. Smith, a prominent local doctor who was heavily involved in charity care for the poor. Over the next few decades, the infirmary would move several times, occupying successively larger structures in order to be able to care for more patients. In 1870, it moved into the late Dr. Smith's former residence.

After years of fundraising, in the late 1880s enough money was raised to build a new structure on Castleton Avenue. Alfred E. Barlow was chosen as architect. He designed the new castle-styled building according to prevailing treatment modalities of the day, with all four corners occupied by rounded towers. This was thought to cut down on the spread of disease. In 1890, the infirmary moved from Dr. Smith's house to this new building, which was opened with some great fanfare.



In 1917, the Infirmary was renamed The Staten Island Hospital, a nod to the fact that it served all of the island. For decades, the campus would expand, adding several new pavilions, nurses' quarters, a physical plant, and other buildings. Then in 1979, the hospital abandoned the campus, moving into a brand-new, state of the art facility on Seaview Avenue. Thus began the decline of the gorgeous Barlow-designed infirmary building.

In 1983, the Landmarks Preservation Committee considered the infirmary for landmark status. Nothing ever came of the discussion, and over the next several years, alternate development plans were floated, some of which would maintain the character of the building, some of which would not. Work was even begun on turning one of the other buildings on the campus, a six-story brick structure, into a condo complex. This was shortly halted, and the entire campus started to fall into ruin. The infirmary building had been gutted, leaving very little of the interior character intact, but no motions had been made to stabilize it.

Over the next twenty-five years, the infirmary became prey to the whims of graffiti vandals, arsonists, and perhaps worst of all, the elements. Token efforts were made to stabilize parts of the building and to seal it against intruders, but these were not terribly successful. Today, the infirmary is in terrible shape. Most walls are covered with tags, and garbage is strewn about. Huge gaps in the roof allows water to invade, and floors are collapsing. The only interior details which remain intact are sections of the ornate pressed-tin ceiling, and the gorgeous cast-iron staircase.

It is sad to see the noble notion of preservation fail as badly as it has here, and the LPC is at least partly to blame. Because of their 1983 deliberations, which did not achieve anything, they are unwilling to consider the building at present. The property owners have been negligent; with no legislative prod forcing them to maintain the building, it is quickly falling into ruin. Whether it can be saved now is anybody's guess. Sadly, I'm guessing that it will either be demolished by the hand of man, or just left to demolition by neglect.

Here's a peek at what it looks like today.


The grand iron staircase, first floor. Note the remaining pieces of tin ceiling still attached.


Detail of one of the cast iron columns supporting the staircase.


Staircase as seen from the second floor landing. Note the wooden finials on the banister, still very much intact.


A half-collapsed room in one of the rounded corners. The beams on the far side of the room show signs of fire damage.


A smaller staircase leads up to the attic.


The attic. The floor is caved in throughout much of it, and the superstructure of the building is literally collapsing in upon itself.


Even despite the graffiti and water damage, the grandeur of the whalebone arching in this lofty attic is quite evident.


The first floor lobby. Even gutted and ravaged by water and vandals, the beauty of the building shows through in subtle ways.

42 comments:

redrawblak said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John Warren said...

Outstanding post - we need more of this kind of expose.

Ken Mac said...

beautiful. Thanks for updating, and keep it up!

Newburgh Restoration said...

This blog is great!

Glimmerglass said...

Once again you've given life to the lost beauty of public buildings of the past. A hauntingly sad yet beutiful series of pictures.

These are not souless bricks worthy of being discarded but rather reflect what once had been significant pride in public structures.

A so-called advanced society takes one step forward but two steps back.

Ajlouny said...

It looks like it was an incredible building in it's prime. Too bad it wasn't preserved. Thank you for sharing your thought provoking photos.

mdecker said...

theres apparently a meeting this week to save the castle itself seeing as the hospital has been gutted... is the building photographed still in this condition today?? -thank you-

mdecker said...

this friday at the richmondtown courthouse there will be a 7:30 meeting with a video presentation regarding the preservation of the building

Angela D'Aiuto said...

There's a new group, the Coalition to Save 'the Castle'. We are working towards landmarking the Castle, since there are development plans on the horizon....Visit http://sitreasure.com/Blog

CvB said...

Who is the owner? I have tried to find out in the past with no luck. Are they trying to sell it?

Anonymous said...

These photos make me sad. I love early 1900's and late 1800's achetecture and I also like seeing it in a state of demise, but not to this point. These buildings are a lost art. If only, we as a country, could save our history, instead of ignoring it and making it evil.

Ragemanchoo said...

Awesome photos...where does this building stand? I can't quite find it.

Anonymous said...

it stands at castleton ave. its in the ghetto of staten island its quite a walk from the ferry, i actually randomly found this place and then researched it online and found this article, reallly happy for the results!

spiritseeker31 said...

Heading back to the city in May. We're looking for a few places to explore and research the history on. Is this easy to find and accessible to safely take photographs?

Shash said...

outstanding!

Anonymous said...

I went there in June 2009 - it's in very, very poor shape. I wouldn't say it's safe for anyone to go in there, although my friend made it to the first floor through a back entrance, there wasn't much chance to get around the place. Certainly from our approach, we couldn't see any sign of staircases etc, and although the roof looks relatively intact on Google sat. images, I suspect the end of winter 2009 may have caused a lot of damage since this photographer visited. Maybe from the front you can get better access?

That said, it was still beautiful, and we managed to get a bus all the way there from the station, then walked back. There were holes in the fence all around, and one gate completely down at the time.

If you're thinking of going, keep an eye out for hobos, take a friend or two and maybe even a hardhat for good measure.

Also, lots of poison ivy etc. on the site.

spiritseeker31 said...

Thanks Anon! We'll be careful. Thanks for the bus info too.

Anonymous said...

I am thinking of visiting soon. Wish me luck!

DeadlyDesires171 said...

I wish I could just go back in time to see and admire the beauty of buildings such as this one.

Nickk said...

Went there in April, sad shape. Tons of trash around the area and the structural integrity of the building is horrible. It would take a miracle -- and tons of cash to fix the place up. Much fire damage and I'm surprised the winter didn't finish the wooden attic floors off. Very sad.

savsuns said...

Before reading this I was totally unaware of the topic. Thanks for Explaining in such a nice way. As per my knowledge there some buy ultracet which are effective and good. I always prefer them only.

outsource design said...

I am almost excited with all the content of your site.I really do enjoy this great website and your article was just wonderful.

Maximilian said...

The thing you're writing is a big blunder.
law firms in charlotte nc | Wings recipes | virtual worlds games online | atlanta ga hotels | auto insurance california

Anonymous said...

The most recent news this week is that the building has about a month left before the city takes it down.

iPhone Developer said...

Awesome pictures i loved snow fall like this but i haven't visited place yet.

Blinds said...

The Samuel R. Smith Infirmary building pics are awesome. I totally impressed to read this interesting historical view. Thanks!

Buy Runescape Gold said...

Yet again you've given existence towards the missing appeal of open public complexes of history. The hauntingly depressing however beutiful series of photographs.

purchase domain name said...

Your blog is looking great with that image. I like that image so much. Thank you for sharing this beautiful image.

outsource portal said...

Yes the post is really great opening the eyes and minds while helped gaining knowledge that how companies utilize the social meida's and using them for making their outlets.

Funny blog site said...

Your blog seems to be really marvellous. Thanks for sharing..

Seo forum india said...

These images are really awesome. good collections..keep it up..

Anonymous said...

can't stop looking! you're blog has become one of my favourites!
exellent job!
;)

Ms. M. Peele said...

I am so glad someone posted this. I am a student on the Island studying in medical anthropology across the road from the Seaview Avenue/North Shore location of the current hospital. The Infirmary, currently, is in incredibly worse shape as it stands on the corner of Cebra and Castleton Avenues. If you ride the S52, S62, or any of the MTA bus lines that run the Castleton Avenue or Victory Blvd. routes, you can't miss it. My father is in the nursing home across the street from the Infirmary. You can tell she was once a gorgeous building, but she's a heartbreaking sight, an abandoned testament to our architectural past. Her roof is visibly caved in and is definitely exposed to the elements. At night, to walk up that hill from Victory Blvd. or to come around that corner on Castleton or Cebra must be a heart attack waiting to happen. Two of my biggest concerns are what pathogens are still on that property that the residents of the immediate area may still be inhaling today, and when the Infirmary does completely collapse will anyone contain it? It is very close enough to street's edge that should it more than collapse in on itself, dust particles and residues can travel beyond the confines of the iron gating on Castleton Avenue and those corners. I have seen, at the time period of school dismissal and the evening rush hour, families with school age children walking these corners. I refuse to stay to visit my father in the nursing home after dark. One of my biggest fears is that that building will come crashing down in the middle of the night, the sound and sight of which, just to imagination, could not be comfortable. It is eery in darkness and heartbreaking in broad daylight to witness. I give it one more really good blizzard or hurricane and she'll come down. Even if they were never going to use it after the move to the Seaview Avenue location, they should have taken her more valuable parts and sent them to a refurnishing dealer of period pieces. Not that it's an administrative concern, apparently... The area is definitely an immigrant and minority community. It seems rather depressed economically, but not completely. Many small businesses, a peculiar diversity for the area. I would severely advise against exploring the grounds based on the increased estimation of structural damage from the elements from the time after this site initially posted and the last comments before my own were made. If you are interested enough to see it before it is gone, definitely do not attempt to walk to the area from the ferry unless it's in summer.

Anonymous said...

I just logged onto Facebook to find an old high school classmate post that he witnessed the demolition of this building today. How truly sad.

Anonymous said...

when I went to high school, I would always see this abandoned building with collapsed roof from the train and wanted to explore it. when I started working at the North Shore JCC and had to take the bus down Cebra, I finally realized where it was after years of not seeing it up close or knowing where it was exactly. The first week of March 2012 it stopped existing. I thought it was a figment of my imagination but it just turns out they demolished it that very week. it was so upsetting.

Anonymous said...

Take a look at this post. This is how we saw the castle. Possible some of the last images.

http://statenislandlifestyle.com/2012/the-staten-island-castle/

Stephen said...

well, unfortunatly the building has been demolished as of 2 or 3 months ago, quite a shame really as I've wanted to peek inside with my own eyes for the longest time. I lived on SI my whole life, passed it as kid, but never went in.

Stephen said...

well, unfortunatly the building has been demolished as of 2 or 3 months ago, quite a shame really as I've wanted to peek inside with my own eyes for the longest time. I lived on SI my whole life, passed it as kid, but never went in.

combivir said...

Pretty good post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed reading your blog posts. Any way I will be subscribing to your feed and I hope you post again soon.

Anonymous said...

This place would be so beautifull they need to restore it!

Anonymous said...

What's the story with the "T" shaped building next to where the hospital use to be?

alat seks said...

I really really love what I see in this content, and to reply to my pleasure, I can not give anything other than a thank you.
And though I'd love a few words I would like to share the information with what I deal with at the moment.
Obat perangsang wanitaSerbuk Obat perangsang
Cairan Obat Perangsang
Potenzol Cair
Jual Obat perangsang wanita
terapi alat vital