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Vitagraph: From silent film studio to pricey apartment building

Midwood called 'Brooklyn's best-kept secret'

April 11, 2022 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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The Dermot Company — described on its LinkedIn site as a management and investment company focusing on multifamily buildings — recently paid $180 million for a Midwood apartment building with a historic past.

The Real Deal described the building as being in a “humble neighborhood,” but its past is anything but humble.

The eight-story building at 1277 East 14th St., known as The Vitagraph, is built on the site of Vitagraph Studios, an early pioneer in the film business before it moved to Hollywood.

In the pre-World War I era, Vitagraph became famous due to its comedies starring John Bunny, the most popular comedian in the U.S. prior to Charlie Chaplin. Other then-famous movies made by Vitagraph included the first film adaptation of “Les Miserables” and the five-part serial, “The Life of Moses.”

Brooklynite Moe Howard of the Three Stooges, in his autobiography, described how, as a child, he hung around the Vitagraph studios, doing errands, and eventually got to play bit parts in some of the studio’s films.

The Vitagraph: The Dermot Company recently paid $180 million for this Midwood apartment building, according to published reports. Rendering courtesy of thevitagraphbk.com

Vitagraph was absorbed by Warner Brothers in the 1920s. NBC, in turn, bought the studio in the early 1950s and filmed several shows there, including “Sing Along With Mitch” in the early ’60s, “The Sammy Davis Jr. Show” in 1966, the rock ’n’ roll variety show “Hullabaloo” in 1965-66, and more.

It was torn down in 2015, although an adjacent building, also used as a TV and movie studio, on Avenue M, survived, according to Untapped Cities.

The building’s website, thevitagraphbk.com, describes the neighborhood as “Brooklyn’s best-kept secret” and describes some of its features: separate heating and cooling systems in each apartment, washers and dryers in every unit, a smart access system for all apartment entry doors, balconies and terraces for some apartments, a landscaped courtyard and a “city-scape rooftop” offering picturesque views. On its website, in addition to renderings of the present-day building, is a photo of the tall smokestack from the Vitagraph Studios that became a landmark in the neighborhood.

A 1915 view of the Vitagraph film complex in Brooklyn. Public domain photo courtesy of Wikimedia

The Real Deal said the sale of the 302-unit apartment building was the largest in Brooklyn this year “and a testament to the feeling that rising rents will drive deal-seeking tenants to listing farther from the city center.”

The real estate publication also said that the builder, Hampshire Properties, took out a 421a loan to develop the property, meaning that some of its units “must remain rent-regulated for the next three decades.”

Even the affordable apartments, however, may seem pricey to many. Ninety-one of the building’s apartments were offered in a 2020 affordable lottery, according to The Real Deal, and rents for those apartments ranged “from $2,346 for a one-bedroom apartment to $2,830 for a two-bedroom apartment.”

The Dermot website lists two other Brooklyn properties: The Rockwell, at 66 Rockwell Place; and The Kerstel, at 33 Caton Place.


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