The Vitagraph Studios smokestack stood tall above Midwood long before the Kentile Floors and Eagle Clothes signs were ever erected, but now residents past and present are afraid the local – but not official – landmark will face the same fate and be removed from the Brooklyn skyline.
“The 100-plus year old Vitagraph Studios smokestack is now shrouded in scaffolding and a security guard told me it will be torn down,” cried Midwood resident Ellen Levitt in a panicked email that also served as a rallying cry to neighbors. “This is an important remnant of film-making history. It’s our landmark and it should be saved!”
The last vestige of American Vitagraph, a silent film and movie studio founded in 1897 that pioneered movie newsreels and produced the world’s first animated and first stop-motion film, “The Humpty Dumpty Circus,” the now poorly-maintained smokestack sits at East 14th Street and Locust Avenue and is visible to subway commuters riding on the B and Q lines past the Avenue M station.
The smokestack itself is 108 years old. It is unknown whether the security guard who spoke to Levitt was correct and the smokestack is indeed scheduled for demolition.
A request for comment to the building’s current owner, 1277 Holdings LLC, has not been returned as of press time.
However, the group behind the Facebook page, Save the Vitagraph Smokestack, stated that a representative of the new owners told them “there is no immediate property development plans.
“Scaffolding is there to protect area from falling debris as the smokestack is in disrepair,” they wrote. “Shulamith is leasing the property for now.”
That isn’t stopping residents from being proactive, though.
“Prodigious and proud, the smokestack stands beautifully emblazoned with inlaid brickwork spelling out Vitagraph,” opines the creators of an online petition to “Save The Vitagraph Smokestack.”
“[As] the oldest still-standing monument to the American film industry on the east coast and, possibly, in the country. . . we would like to make a plea for preserving it as a landmark,” the petition, organized by resident Melissa Friedling, continues.
“For the love of Pete, stop knocking cool stuff down,” wrote signee Vicki Smith.
The smokestack is all that remains of “a monument to American, craft, creativity and art,” said Henry Sapoznik. “Destroying it removes a powerful statement about our place in the world of creativity and innovation.”
This isn’t the first grassroots attempt to confer landmark status to the smokestack. In 2012, a similar petition was launched on Change.org, by Jennifer Ann Redmond of Long Island. That effort sent letters to the city Landmarks Preservation Commission requesting that the structure be restored “to inspire future generations.”
Redmond said her application was denied, but she is hopeful that the new efforts will be more successful.
Levitt still has hope, too.
“Vitagraph has been part of my life ever since I moved to Midwood, when I was not quite seven years old,” Levitt said. “I liked the silent movie comedies that I would see on TV, so I appreciated knowing that we had a sizable piece of history in our own backyard.”
With Brooklyn returning to prominence as a center for film production, at Steiner Studios, Broadway Stages and on streets from Brooklyn Heights to Marine Park, Levitt notes that the smokestack could also find a place in the borough’s future.
“We should honor history,” she said. “It can be appreciated as a tourist attraction, as well.”