Cutting Through the Atmosphere
Samuel R. Smith Infirmary
Located in Staten Island, NY
Photo © 2005 Tom Kirsch, opacity.us
Samuel R. Smith Infirmary History
Staten Island was a rural land mass inhabited by few people during most of the 19th century; no private hospital had existed here until as late as 1861, when an infirmary was established on the northern side of the island. The hospital was named after Dr. Samuel Russell Smith, who devoted his services to charity cases and even his house as the first infirmary building. In 1864, the hospital was relocated to the government quarantine station on Tompkins Ave, however the structure was old and insufficient for the 88 inpatients. In 1887, the infirmary acquired a six acre site off Castleton Ave where a new hospital was to be built, thanks to years of fund raising.
Often referred to as a "castle" due to the exterior appearance, the Smith Infirmary was inspired by the New York Cancer Hospital, similar in design and function, which was constructed during 1884-1890. It too was abandoned for some time (1974-2000) before it was renovated into condominiums. A common element found between the two is the conical turret-like corners of the building; these corner-less rooms were thought to have reduced the spread of dust and disease. The original brick building at the S.R. Smith Infirmary was known as the Frost Memorial Tower, named after George Frost, who generously donated the land. It was designed by Alfred E. Barlow, and opened in the summer of 1890 to the great praise of islanders. A newspaper had described a typical room: ''Beds are of iron, with woven wire springs, hair mattresses, snowy sheets and downy blankets.''
Shortly after opening, the infirmary treated as many as 346 inpatients and 600 outpatients. In 1898, the same year in which the five boroughs were consolidated into New York City, military ships sailed into Snug Harbor with wounded soldiers from the Spanish-American war to be treated at the facility. In 1913, the official name of the infirmary had changed to The Staten Island Hospital to reinforce the fact that the facility served all of Staten Island.
Over the years, a number of ancillary buildings were constructed at the Castleton Avenue site, including two surgical pavilions, multiple nurse's residences, crematorium, and power plant. A large six story building also sits on the property, built in the 1920s. In 1965 a feasibility study was conducted to expand the facility, however it proved to be a better option to relocate the entire hospital and construct new buildings elsewhere, which was fully realized and decided upon in 1970. By 1979, the hospital was moved into the present day location (now called the Staten Island University Hospital).
Landmark status for the vacant Frost building was considered in 1983, however it never came through even to this day. A developer sought to renovate the two main structures into condominiums in the mid-1980s, but work was halted. Unfortunately the interior of the historic Frost had already been stripped except for the main iron staircase, ceiling, and floors; after this interior demolition work halted, the structure was left to rot without any stabilization efforts. After a fire and many years of neglect, the infirmary stands in poor shape, and still without landmark status after the efforts in 1983, and again in 1991. Recent news of developing the site into low-income housing has sparked The Coalition to Save the Castle.
Update: The old hospital was demolished in March 2012.