Steiner Studios’ expansion plans will preserve historic Navy Yard buildings

August 23, 2012 By Raanan Geberer Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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The needs of Steiner Studios to expand and the fact that the Brooklyn Navy Yard’s old hospital and surgeon’s residence are both New York City landmarks have contributed to a happy ending for the yard’s 19th century hospital campus.

When Steiner Studios, under the terms of an agreement reached last week, begins its $400 million project to create a media campus on the site, it plans to rehabilitate the nine historic buildings there  as well as creating five new buildings.

It also helps that when the U.S. Navy turned the campus over to the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation in 1989, it first stabilized the buildings.

In contrast, during the years that the National Guard had stewardship over the much-discussed Admiral’s Row houses in another section of the Navy Yard, the guard did nothing to stop their deterioration.

The hospital, which was built in 1838, has bars on its basement windows, and some people speculate that Confederate prisoners were held there during the Civil War. The hospital was used around the clock during both World War I and World War II.

Even after the Navy Yard shut down, the hospital and its more recent annex still were used by the Navy as administration buildings.

The Navy surgeon for whom the circa-1864 surgeon’s residence was built, E.R. Squibb, later left the service and founded the pharmaceutical firm of E.R. Squibb and Sons. That firm’s administrative buildings in Brooklyn Heights now serve as the headquarters for the Watchtower Society.

While this section of the Navy Yard is usually closed to the public, it is open for tours. This writer went on such a tour several years ago and saw not only the aforementioned buildings but a now-disused tennis court.

Also nearby was an officers’ club  and an elderly couple who accompanied us on the tour told us that they had met at the club in the 1950s.

The Steiner Studios, according to the New York Times, plans to use the buildings to house media companies and academic programs. It also plans 100,000 square feet of new stages for movies and TV, including the first underwater stage in the country.

In addition, the complex hopes to build a “back lot” where filmmakers could recreate New York locations such as the Lower East Side, Harlem or Chinatown, according to the Times.

The entire project, which is expected to get $35 million in city and state financing, is expected to take 12 years to build.

Steiner Studios, which has hosted such stellar productions as “Boardwalk Empire,” “Flight of the Conchords,” “Mr. Popper’s Penguins,” “Revolutionary Road” and many more, has been steadily expanding since it opened in late 2004.

It originally boasted five sound stages, including one which, at 27,000 square feet, has often been referred to as the largest on the East Coast.

In March of this year, the complex, under the direction of Chairman Douglas C. Steiner, opened five new sound stages, totaling 45,000 square feet.

In addition, in December 2011, Brooklyn College announced plans to establish a new graduate school of cinema on the grounds of the Steiner Studios. The first class of students are scheduled to begin their studies in September 2013.

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