Gutted interior of the Vitagraph studio in Midwood, Brooklyn. Photo by Dave Miller and Mike Wright via Save the Vitagraph Smokestack
Yet another piece of cultural history is being demolished in New York City. The old Vitagraph studio of Midwood, in south-central Brooklyn, which then became an NBC studio, is being ripped up as we speak. This studio was built by J. Stuart Blackton, a former partner of Thomas Edison, in 1906 and was once the largest producer of motion pictures in the United States. It was later sold to Warner Brothers in 1925. The facility housed two sound stages, as well as a pool.
Among the acclaimed works filmed here were “Peter Pan” (with Mary Martin) and the musical show “Sing Along With Mitch,” starring Mitch Miller. It’s been said that Leon Trotsky and Rudolph Valentino been worked there as extras before they became famous. Early recorded sound to film experiments were worked on here as well, as the facility included a laboratory.
The NBC studio next door, closer to Avenue M, was where soap operas were being filmed. “Another World” was the best known of these, and students from Edward R. Murrow High School and Shulamith School in the 1980s would lurk around the studio entrance, waiting to get actors’ autographs.
Avenue M at East 17th St showing Vitagraph Smokestack in background when this area of Brooklyn was still akin to countryside, 1932
The hulking building is now being torn up, and the social service agency Ohel will be building a residence here. On April 13th, sawing was taking place inside and on April 14th, a big machine ripped at the guts and floor of the building.
The Avenue M building appears to be untouched by demolition, but film fans are worried about the fate of the legendary Vitagraph Smokestack, a tall structure of salmon-colored brick with the Vitagraph name displayed on it. Everyone can see it from the B and Q trains, just before the trains enter the Avenue M station. For the past few months it has been clad in scaffolding, and there are rumors about its survival.
If you are in the Midwood area, come take a look and say farewell to some footnote movie history.
Check out the latest exhibit about NYC preservation at the Museum of City of NY, Saving Place: 50 Years of New York City Landmarks. Next, take a look at a modern day film studio on a former oil spill site along Newtown Creek.