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George Kaufman, the real-estate developer who helped rejuvenate film and television production in New York City as chairman of the venerable Kaufman Astoria Studios complex in Queens, died Tuesday in Florida, a publicist announced. He was 89.
Kaufman grew his three-generation, family owned-and-operated Kaufman Organization into one of the city’s largest independent real estate operations. The company now owns or manages more than six million square feet of property in New York.
Built in 1920, Kaufman Astoria Studios was the original home of Paramount Pictures, and the Marx Brothers shot their first two features there. After the filmmaking community relocated to Hollywood, the U.S. Army began production there in the 1940s. It was declared “surplus property” in the 1970s and turned over to the federal government.
In 1982, Kaufman acquired Astoria Studios with a plan to “not only to build a world-class film and television production center that would continue the studio’s legacy and bring more productions to New York, but to also revitalize this corner of Astoria,” he told The Wall Street Journal in a 2014 interview.
Kaufman Astoria Studios opened a backlot — the only outdoor stage facility in New York City — in 2013 and now offers more than 500,000 square feet of soundstages, production office and service space. Current projects including the 50th season of Sesame Street (the show’s home since 1992), Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, Showtime’s Ben Stiller series Escape at Dannemora and season six of Orange Is the New Black.
Meanwhile, the surrounding neighborhood, now known as the Kaufman Arts District — the first arts district in Queens — includes the Museum of the Moving Image.
“George was so much more than a real estate developer,” Hal Rosenbluth, president and CEO of Kaufman Astoria Studios, said in a statement. “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.”
A veteran of the Korean War, Kaufman earned his undergraduate degree from Ohio State University and his masters from New York University. The family real estate business began in 1918, and he became president of the Kaufman Realty Corp. in the late 1950s.
Kaufman served on the boards of a number of philanthropic and civil organizations, including the Whitney Museum, the Fashion Institute of Technology, Exploring the Arts and the Museum of the Moving Image. He also was the founding chairman of the Fashion Center BID.
Survivors include his wife, Mariana, and daughter, Cynthia.
A funeral service will take place at 11:30 a.m. on Monday at Temple Emanu-El in Manhattan. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Kaufman Arts District.
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