Robert Richard Randall founded Sailors’ Snug Harbor as a “haven for aged, decrepit and worn out sailors” with his benefactors’ bequest of 1801. Over the next century, Sailors’ Snug Harbor expanded from its original three buildings to 50 structures and 900 residents from every corner of the world. By the turn of the 20th century, Sailors’ Snug Harbor was the richest charitable institution in the United States and a self-sustaining community composed of a working farm, dairy, bakery, chapel, sanatorium, hospital, music hall and cemetery.
Snug Harbor’s major buildings are representative of the changing architectural styles of the early 19th and 20th centuries. The first buildings were built in the Greek Revival style. As the complex expanded, new buildings were erected in the Beaux Arts, Renaissance Revival, Second Empire and Italianate styles. High Victorian decorative components were added throughout the 83-acre site.
Sailors’ Snug Harbor’s experienced financial difficulties in the mid-20th century as the number of residents dwindled and financial pressures multiplied. The population of the celebrated retirement home and hospital began to decline when federal programs such as Social Security and Medicare were introduced. Sailors’ Snug Harbor had been the first welfare institution sailors could turn to for help, but after a century of service, retirees had more options. After World War II financial resources were focused on the individual care of the aging population, not facilities. The historic buildings of Sailors’ Snug Harbor began to deteriorate. The hospital, sanatorium, farm buildings and several service buildings were demolished in 1951.The white marble Randall Memorial Church, fell into disrepair and by 1952 was also demolished. The community was outraged by the loss of the structure. Fortunately in the 1960s, the newly formed New York City Landmarks Commission stepped forward to save the five Greek Revival front buildings and the chapel and designated them New York City’s first landmark structures. They were also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Local activists and artists worked during the 1970s with elected officials to secure the unique property and its principal buildings for the City of New York with the objective to transform the complex into a regional arts center. The newly formed Snug Harbor Cultural Center was incorporated in 1975. In 2008, Snug Harbor Cultural Center combined with the Staten Island Botanical Gardens to become Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden.
Today, Snug Harbor is a place where history, architecture, visual art, theater, dance, music and environmental science come together and provide dynamic experiences for all ages. It is one of the largest ongoing adaptive reuse projects in America, consisting of 28 buildings, and is one of New York City’s unique architectural complexes and historic landscapes. Majestic buildings of classic architectural styles present exhibitions on historical subjects and contemporary art. Its Music Hall is the one of the oldest concert halls in New York City, second only to Carnegie Hall, and serves as the centerpiece for performing arts. Nine distinctive botanical gardens are spread across the site and include the celebrated New York Chinese Scholar’s Garden and the newly completed Richmond County Savings Foundation Tuscan Garden, based on the 18th Century garden at the Villa Gamberaia in Florence, Italy. Snug Harbor is also home to Art Lab, the Staten Island Arts, the Newhouse Center for Contemporary Art, the Noble Maritime Collection, Snug Harbor Artist Residency Program (SHARP), Staten Island Children’s Museum and the Staten Island Museum. Snug Harbor is a proud Smithsonian affiliate.
To learn more, please contact the following resources.
The Trustees of the Sailors’ Snug Harbor in the City of New York
40 Exchange Place, Suite 1701, New York, NY 10005
SUNY Maritime College
Stephen B. Luce Library
6 Pennyfield Avenue, Throggs Neck, NY 10465