What do “Animal Crackers,” “The Wiz,” “Sesame Street” and “Orange Is the New Black” have in common? They were all made at Kaufman Astoria Studios in Queens. The studio set behind a Hollywood-like gate on 35th Street opened in 1920 as the original home of Paramount Pictures.
“I find it kind of funny that what was built for silent films is now home to one of the first digital streaming series on Netflix,” Vice President Tracy Capune said, as “OITNB” was the third Netflix Original released.
Not only is Kaufman Astoria Studios where some of your favorite movies and shows are still made — and home to the city’s only backlot — it’s also the anchor of Astoria’s Kaufman Arts District, Queens’ first cultural district.
Founded by Kaufman Astoria Studios, Museum of the Moving Image and Queens Council on the Arts, the 24-block-plus district strives to support emerging artists.
It’s a creative endeavor you feel as you walk its streets, which is a far cry from the Astoria Carl Goodman, the museum’s executive director, saw when it opened in 1988, a few years after developer George Kaufman renovated and expanded the landmarked site now known as Kaufman Astoria Studios to help revitalize the community.
“There would be syringes and broken glass on the street, and people were told not to ride their bikes around here,” Goodman said. “When people talk about the sudden renaissance of the neighborhood, I chuckle because this was a vision the people behind the project had, so it’s a great source of pride.”
Kaufman Astoria Studios a cultural cornerstone
While Kaufman Astoria Studios anchors the Kaufman Arts District, the area also houses the Tony Bennett-founded Frank Sinatra School of the Arts, Socrates Sculpture Park, Noguchi Museum and more — with others on the horizon.
For the first time, 24-year-old modern dance company Rioult Dance New York will be able to open a school as it relocates from the Garment District to a brand-new facility on Steinway Street, which opens Oct. 15.
“We were really intrigued by the development of the arts district,” Executive Director Amy Harrison said. “Let’s hope more and more artists are attracted to this area. The goal is we talk to each other and make each other stronger.”
Exploring the Arts, Tony Bennett’s nonprofit behind the Frank Sinatra School across from Kaufman Astoria Studios, moved from Midtown to the studios a year and a half ago, where it is a “stone’s throw from his childhood home,” Executive Director Cheri Walsh said. “We were an arts organization amongst bankers, it just didn’t make sense. This made so much conceptual sense. We’re in Tony’s hometown, it doesn’t get any better.”