For 120 years, a castle with many names loomed over the quiet nabe of New Brighton, Staten Island. Perched on a 6 acre hilltop covered with dead creeping vines, the “S. I. Castle,” officially the Frost Memorial Tower of the old Samuel R. Smith Infirmary, which was later renamed Staten Island Hospital, appears to be the quintessential haunted house. You mightn’t expect its history as a flourishing charity-driven hospital for the underprivledged and a point of pride for the Staten Island community.
Today, the empty rubble-strewn lot lingers as a symbol of lost history, and lost hope, for members of the Preservation League of Staten Island and their supporters, whose generations of passionate and repeated efforts to save the building, and promote its designation as a New York City Landmark, have fallen on the deaf ears of the Landmarks Preservation Commission. Unannounced, the city demolished the striking Romanesque Revival structure in early March, asserting that the building was in a state of “progressive collapse.”
Touring the Smith Infirmary only 4 weeks before its fateful demolition, I can say that the decision was warranted. Through 33 years of abandonment, the degraded walls, slumping ceilings, and precarious floors of the infirmary became an appealing canvas for graffiti artists, a haven for squatters, drug addicts, and arsonists, and ultimately, a neighborhood hazard.
Crossing paths with an unassuming homeless man hauling a large piece of lumber, I made my way through the weedy, brick-covered lot to a shuttering board on the west side of the building. The smell of mold and rot permeated the ravaged interior. Wind blustered through its second floor landing, causing boards and debris to smack and rattle at odd intervals. As one of the last people to set foot inside the Frost Memorial Tower, I witnessed a shameful record of neglect that calls into question the value and mission of the Landmarks Preservation Commission. These pictures document the dying breaths of a squandered architectural and historical treasure. Rest in pieces, S.I. Castle.