Kings Park Psychiatric Center

Kings Park Psychiatric Center

The Kings Park Psychiatric Center is a former state-run psychiatric hospital located in Kings Park, New York. It operated from 1885 until 1994, when the State of New York closed the facility down, either releasing its few remaining patients or transferring them to the still-operational Pilgrim Psychiatric Center.


The Kings Park Psychiatric Center was established in 1885 by Kings County in nearby Suffolk County, prior to the merging of Kings County with Queens County, New York County, Richmond County, and the Bronx County, to form the famous New York City. The official name of the hospital in its first ten years was the "Kings County Asylum," taken from the name of the county that Brooklyn occupied. The hospital was revolutionary at the time in the sense that it was a departure from the asylums of folklore, which were overcrowded places where gross human rights abuses often took place. The asylum, built by Brooklyn to alleviate overcrowding in its own asylums, was a "Farm Colony" asylum, where patients worked in a variety of farm-related activities, such as feeding livestock and growing food, as this was considered to be a form of therapy for the mentally ill at the time.

Eventually, overcrowding became a problem in the Kings County Asylum, the very thing that it was trying to relieve. New York State responded to the problem in 1895, when control of the asylum passed into state hands, and it was subsequently renamed the Kings Park State Hospital. The surrounding community, which had previously been known as "St. Johnland," adopted the name "Kings Park," which it is still known as today. The state eventually built the hospital up into a self-sufficient community that not only grew its own food, but also generated its own heat and electricity, had its own Long Island Rail Road spur, and housed its staff on-site.

As patient populations grew throughout the early part of the 20th century, the hospital itself continued to grow, and by the late 1930s the state began to build upward instead of outward. During this time period, the famous 13-story Building 93 was built. Designed by state architect William E. Haugaard and funded with Works Progress Administration money, the building, often dubbed "the most famous asylum building on Long Island," was completed in 1939 and would be used as an infirmary for the facility's geriatric patients, as well as for patients with chronic physical ailments.

Post-World War II, Kings Park and the other Long Island asylums would see their patient populations soar. In 1954, the patient census at Kings Park topped 9,300, but would begin a steady decline afterwards. By the time Kings Park reached its peak patient population, the old "rest and relaxation" philosophy surrounding farming gave way to pre-frontal lobotomies and electro-shock therapy, but those methods would quickly become ancient in 1955, following the introduction of Thorazine, the first widely used drug in the treatment of mental illness. As medication made it possible for patients to live normal lives outside of a mental institution, the need for large facilities like Kings Park diminished, and the patient population began to drop. By the early 1990s the Kings Park Psychiatric Center, as it had come to be known by that point, was operating as a ghost of its former self, with many buildings being shut down or reduced in usage (including the massive Building 93, by the early 1990s, only the first few floors of the building were in use).

In the early 1990s, with patient populations at increasingly low levels, the New York State Office of Mental Health (formerly the Department of Mental Hygiene) began to plan for the closure of Kings Park as well as another Long Island asylum, the Central Islip Psychiatric Center. The plans called for Kings Park and Central Islip to close, and have any remaining patients from both facilities transferred to Pilgrim Psychiatric Center, which was at one time the world's largest hospital, or be discharged. In the fall of 1996, the plans were implemented, and the few remaining patients from Kings Park and Central Islip were transferred to Pilgrim, ending Kings Park's 111-year run.

KPPC Today

Today, the sprawling area that once housed the Kings Park Psychiatric Center stands as a testament to a forgotten era. In the spring of 2000, the waterfront portion of the former campus was reopened as the Nissequogue River State Park, preventing it from development, while the rest lies mostly abandoned (the rail spur, abandoned in the late 1980s, was converted into part of a hike-bike trail in 2003). Pilgrim Psychiatric Center, which took in the remaining patients from Kings Park, runs three group homes on the non-parkland portion of the campus while everything else is abandoned. Since 1996, several proposals regarding the property have come and gone, and today, a developer is looking into purchasing the non-parkland portions of the grounds from New York State. This development proposal has proven to be highly controversial. The former campus contains numerous obstacles to development, the biggest obstacles are several buildings that were demolished into their basements and buried while the hospital was still open. All of these buildings, which contained asbestos, were never properly abated. Other obstacles include buried ash from the hospital's power generation facilities, asbestos-lined steam tunnels, and asbestos-laden buildings. These obstacles have created a fear in the surrounding community that the developer will have no choice but to build high-density housing to cover the environmental clean-up costs in order to make a profit. In January 2006, New York State aborted the sale of the property, and the future of the site continues to remain uncertain at the present time, with a suit filed by the developer pending in the courts. With the sale canceled, security has been stepped up at the facility once again as the property has been an attraction for trespassers.

It was also announced that NY State officials had agreed on a new plan for the former Kings Park Psychiatric Center property that they were calling the most significant step in years toward getting the long-stalled redevelopment process under way.

Outgoing parks commissioner Bernadette Castro has persuaded other state officials to transfer most of the hospital property to her agency. The plan calls for 368 acres to be added to Nissequogue River State Park, which was created in 1999 from 153 adjacent acres of hospital property. Then the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation will request proposals for a private-public partnership for redeveloping part of the site where vacant buildings stand.

In popular culture

The 1995 movie "Eyes Beyond Seeing", by director Daniel Robert Cohn, was filmed in KPPC's Building 136/137 (old medical/surgical unit) shortly after the building was closed down. The film also contains exterior shots of the famous Building 93 (The 13 story tall Geriatric/Ambulatory building), in an attempt to convince viewers that the interior shots were done inside 93.

The film stars Keith Hamilton Cobb as a mental patient claiming to be Jesus Christ, and also features a cameo by Henny Youngman, in his final movie appearance before his death, as a mental patient claiming to be Henny Youngman.

Henny Youngman actually performed for the patients of KPPC back when it was still open, so it was a nice homage from him to the patients to portray one himself.

External links

* [ Kings Park Heritage Museum] - Extensive Library of Historical Information on the Kings Park Psychiatric Center
* [ KPPC User to User Forums] - Facts and Images Relating to the Kings Park Psychiatric Center
* [ The Nissequogue River Park Foundation]
* [ Long Island Oddities KPPC Page]
* [ opacity] -- extensive documentation of the abandoned buildings at Kings Park State Hosptial
* [ KPPC Pictures]
* [ Kings Park Psychiatric Center, A Documentation]
* [ Kings Park Tomorrow] -- website of Cherokee/Arker Companies, who prior to the termination of the property's sale in January 2006, were looking into developing the former campus.
* [ Psychiatric hospitals close in New York State NY Times]
* [ Irving Pinsley, KPPC chief psychiatrist]
* [ Rose Daniels Pinsley, KPPC director of Children's Unit Social Services]
* [ Living at KPPC] -- staff residential life on the hospital's grounds

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