By Bill Parry
George Kaufman, a Manhattan real estate developer who acquired the old Astoria Studios in 1982 that helped bring a renaissance to an entire neighborhood in the process, died Tuesday at age 89.
The area had been badly impacted by the closing of the complex in the 70s, but after its revival, Kaufman Astoria Studios became an anchor in a growing, vibrant neighborhood that has been proclaimed the Kaufman Arts District, the first arts district in Queens.
“George was so much more than a real estate developer,” Kaufman Astoria Studios President and CEO Hal Rosenbluth said. “He understood deep in his bones the importance of investing in New York’s communities because they are the very foundation of the City’s greatness. He was a visionary who saw the promise of film and television production work in New York long before it became an integral part of the City’s economy.”
The Kaufman Arts District, which spans a 24-block area, is home to seven institutions, including the Museum of the Moving Image, the Queens Council on the Arts and the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts. The district is bound between 31st and Steinway streets and 34th and 37th avenues, an area that was neglected and rundown until Kaufman bought the underused property at 34-12 36th St., which is now one of the largest film and television production studios on the East Coast.
Angelo Rizzo, the maintenance foreman for Kaufman Astoria Studios, described how growing up in the area, the studio was vacant and scary until “Mr. K” came along. Pete Romano, the vice president of operations at Kaufman Astoria Studios, grew up a block away and marveled at the changes to the neighborhood when it was designated the Kaufman Arts District in 2014.
“My folks wouldn’t let me cross 35th Avenue,” he said. “It was devastation, nothing but abandoned buildings. Now look at it.”
Kaufman is survived by his wife, Mariana, and a daughter, Cynthia. Funeral services will take place Monday, Feb. 26 at 11:30 a.m. at Temple Emanu-El in Manhattan.
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr