Abandoned, Demolished, Historic, Hospitals

A Last Look Inside a Demolished Staten Island Castle

ABANDONED NYC_Will Ellis_Smith Infirmary-1

In its final years, the Frost Memorial Tower of the old Smith Infirmary looked like the quintessential haunted house.

For 124 years, a castle with many names loomed over the quiet neighborhood of Thompkinsville, Staten Island. Perched on a six-acre hilltop covered in creeping vines, the striking red brick chateau could have been the backdrop of a fairy tale until thirty years of neglect made it the perfect setting for a Gothic horror. On an early March morning in 2012 while most of the island slept, wrecking balls converged at the Frost Memorial Tower of the old Samuel R. Smith Infirmary. In a matter of hours, the hospital was brought to the ground. Dozens gathered to watch her fall.

Smith Infirmary

The stately Infirmary in its youth.

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In 2011, the weight of winter snow caused the roof of the building to cave in. The same year, Hurricane Irene caused further damage, dashing any hope of saving the structure.

Today, the rubble-strewn lot is a symbol of lost history and lost hope for members of the Preservation League of Staten Island and their supporters, whose passionate and repeated efforts to save the building did little to sway the resolve of the Landmarks Preservation Commission. City engineers who inspected the structure confirmed that the building was in a state of progressive collapse, and would have proven a hazard to firefighters entering the building in the event of a blaze.

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Some elements were salvaged prior to demolition.

Named for a doctor who dedicated his life to the treatment of the poor, the Samuel R. Smith Infirmary was founded in 1863 as the borough’s first private hospital. Principally funded by lavish charity balls, the organization was the pet project of the borough’s high society, known as the “Pride of Staten Island.” By the turn of the twentieth century, the Infirmary had outgrown its former home, and the cornerstone was laid for a new building, named the Frost Memorial Tower in honor of the wealthy benefactor who had gifted the hilly plot of land. It was destined to become one of Staten Island’s stateliest buildings.

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A band of sunlight illuminates a doorway to ghostly effect.

Though the Smith Infirmary was established for the poor, it soon opened its doors to the general public and was renamed Staten Island Hospital in 1916. Many notable actors, lawyers, and political figures were treated there, among more mysterious cases. In 1907, an Infirmary doctor was murdered by the husband of a former patient who had passed away during an operation. The damning evidence that led to the man’s execution is still visible in Cypress Hills Cemetery. On his wife’s grave is the following epitaph: “Revenge renews our happy love in heaven forever.”

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This grand staircase was the interior’s most striking feature.

By 1974, the once-rural land surrounding the complex had become densely populated, leaving little room for expansion. At the time, one hundred patients were waiting daily for admission, and parking had become a serious problem. The campus was abandoned in 1979 when the hospital relocated to a new building on Seaview Avenue.

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By the turn of the 21st century, the property had accrued millions of dollars in tax liens, falling into an irreversible state of disrepair.

In 1983, the Landmarks Preservation Commission declined to designate the Smith Infirmary’s signature building despite its architectural and historical significance. In what had become a rough neighborhood, the derelict hospital quickly gained a reputation for illicit activities, and landmark status was likely to hamper redevelopment. The land was targeted early on for a series of residential development schemes that never came to fruition. As the building deteriorated, the property became a hotbed of real estate fraud and a haven for the neighborhood homeless, but many held fond feelings for the structure—locals called it “the Castle.”

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At the time the infirmary was built, corners were thought to harbor germs, so many hospital rooms were designed with circular walls.

Through 33 years of abandonment, the degraded walls, slumping ceilings, and precarious floors of the Infirmary were utterly devastated by the elements. The smell of mold and rot permeated the interior. Wind blustered through its second floor landing, causing boards and debris to smack and rattle at odd intervals. These were the dying breaths of a squandered architectural treasure. Rest in pieces, Staten Island Castle.

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Where a ceiling had collapsed on the top floor, walls gave way to open sky amid a mass of broken beams.


20 thoughts on “A Last Look Inside a Demolished Staten Island Castle

  1. I love your blog! I grew up in this neighborhood in Staten Island and remember being terrified of this building. This was the early 80s and the place was a mess then. Thank you for documenting all of these abandoned properties. Your blog is wonderful.

    Liked by 2 people

    Posted by CrescentMelissa | 8-27-12., 3:06 pm
  2. I really missed my chance with this one…shame. It looks really cool.


    Posted by Dan | 1-24-13., 6:22 pm
    • I LOVE your blog!! It’s a shame that I won’t be able to catch the ruins of these places. Especially The Staten Island Farm Colony. Any idea when they plan to start the renovations? It’s wonderful that they plan on saving some of this history though. I would like to buy your book when it comes out. I am hoping that I can get into Urban Photography within the next few years. it’s very intriguing looking at history. Thank you for sharing!


      Posted by Anonymous | 1-10-15., 11:53 pm
    • where was the Historic Preservation of America society? I won’t ever give them another money gift, what a loss!


      Posted by Anonymous | 2-4-15., 8:06 am
  3. HOLY SHIT !!!


    Posted by thomas guariano | 6-3-13., 7:47 am
  4. omg! did they demolish it?


    Posted by serg | 12-19-13., 10:39 pm
  5. Very sad. Beautiful and Irreplaceable.


    Posted by K. Q. Duane | 12-1-14., 10:24 pm
  6. Wounded soldiers from the northeastern US, returning from the Spanish American War and World War 1, were brought there until they were well enough to be shipped home.


    Posted by LDDavis | 12-24-14., 10:26 am
  7. Great article. Really glad you were able to capture this wonderful house before it was gone.


    Posted by SharonBlackstone | 1-11-15., 3:34 pm
  8. Would have been a beautiful place when new and could have been beautiful again with a lot of work.


    Posted by Moose | 4-20-15., 7:11 pm
  9. Cool article, I recognized the castle and had to read what u wrote about it. Im glad u captured the essence that once filled its halls


    Posted by dredbeauty | 4-28-15., 10:19 pm
  10. Was at hearings when plans were announced to demolish the building, at rallies organized to save it and at its demolition. Although told that the building would be razed to save its components, that was obviated when the
    demolition crew arrived.


    Posted by Claudia Toback | 1-4-17., 9:12 am
  11. what a freakin shame they don’t make structures like that anymore bottom line nobody cares!!!! about what you think about any historical cites big real estate people SUCK not all of them.


    Posted by peter tumminello | 1-13-18., 4:26 pm
  12. My father (1017), my sister (1952), and I (1949) were born at Staten Island Hospital. The old brick building should never have been allowed to fall into ruin. Many other buildings on SI were preserved. Who let this one go?


    Posted by RAM | 3-22-19., 2:45 pm
  13. Correction to the previous, my father was born there in 1917


    Posted by RAM | 3-22-19., 2:46 pm
  14. I hope the railings and marble stair treads were salvaged and those beautiful pillars. Wonder what happened to them.


    Posted by carolyn gay | 8-25-19., 8:27 pm
  15. My child-Uncle died here in 1912 from Scarlet Fever according to his a death Certificate. Any idea where old records might be kept?


    Posted by Anonymous | 1-17-22., 11:29 am


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