History of The 1896
The 1896 Studios & Stages, a complex of four turn-of-the-century warehouses, is located in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY. It houses over a dozen different shooting locations for photo, film and television, as well as 30 artist studios and small businesses servicing the film industry. Opened in 2008 by sculptor, Jen Durbin, The 1896 has welcomed productions both large and small for 15 years.
The 1896 was erected in its titular year during Bushwick’s industrial boom, and was part of a block-long factory, with the Stewart end of the street serving as carriage houses for horse and buggies. When Bushwick (known as Boswijck or “little town in the woods” by the Dutch) was founded in 1661, it was little more than forestry and farmland. It wasn’t until the industrial revolution of the late 1800s that warehouses and manufacturing bloomed, and buildings such as The 1896 were erected with pride. Chemical and glass factories, oil refineries and coal yards, as well as 14 breweries (Bushwick was dubbed the “beer capital of the Northeast” by 1890), all flooded into the area.
Labelled simply “The Power Company” according to census records, The 1896 was built as a factory that manufactured electrical conduit for the prospering Gilded Age. Manufacturers first started sheathing electrical wires in aluminum and putting them behind plaster walls at the turn-of-the-century—a major step-up from the fabric-coated wiring that came before!
At a certain point, the original Power Company was cut into lots and sold off for a single $1 to those in the 1970’s who were willing to oversee its freezing pipes during a tragic period of ‘white flight,’ red-lining and gang violence that afflicted this overlooked and underserved area of Brooklyn. You can still see the matching architecture in the buildings to the immediate east and west of what was once a block-long pride. The 1896 acquired two more of those original warehouses in 2016 for additional filming space. To this day, the site boasts many of its original features, most notably the century-old textured walls, a clerestory of skylight windows, a smokestack towering over Flushing Avenue, a freight elevator with original gear room, and a wrought-iron balcony opening onto a brick-lined courtyard.
The oldest photos we could find of The 1896 from census records, circa 1931.
Fast-forward to 2007!
Jen Durbin, celebrated sculptor and scenic painter (www.jendurbin.com), was looking for space to relocate her Fort Greene artist studio business, The Milk Factory. Her search led her to Bushwick where she first set eyes on the beautiful turn-of-the-century buildings located at 592 Johnson Avenue. It was love at first sight despite its layers of dust and unfinished floors, and it immediately occurred to her that the two rear buildings and outdoor courtyard could lend themselves beautifully as one-of-a-kind shooting locations for the photo and film industries. Her vision presented an opportunity to protect this historic Bushwick block from the same fate of over-development that had spelled demise for The Milk Factory and to preserve it for the arts. She rolled up her sleeves and got to work, aiming to strike a balance between celebrating the space’s hard-earned beauty and retrofitting it with all the conveniences and comforts of a modern production studio.
Now The 1896 Studios & Stages is entering its 15th year stronger than ever. In a development climate that often privileges new condos over old buildings, The 1896 has found a way to accommodate new business in the neighborhood while also preserving a critical piece of Brooklyn’s history. While The 1896 primarily serves the photo and film industries, Jen continues to reserve space for 30 artist studios and workshops that house various sculptors, animators, designers and painters. Both Jen and her husband Michael (co-owner, guitarist/composer) have studios here and are ever present to this 24/7 care-taking role.
The 1896 Studios & Stages is proudly founded by a woman and run with the help of an amazing staff as a family-run operation.