Monday, July 16, 2007

Lost city of the mad

The hundred or so buildings on the 300 acres of waterfront property on Long Island’s North Shore, like similar psychiatric centers operated by the State of New York in Brentwood and Central Islip and upstate, were once state-of-the-art psychiatric campuses designed to offer bucolic respite for the mentally ill, along with more aggressive interventions like electroshock therapy and lobotomies. They were cities unto themselves. Kings Park had its own power plant, police station, firehouse, railroad station, bakery, hospital and cemetery.

The fiscal crisis of the 1970s, coupled with the development of better psychiatric drugs, changes in the culture of mental health care and scandals about neglectful warehousing of patients at some institutions, led many centers to close by the 1990s. In some places, developers have proceeded with plans to build residential housing, stores and movie theaters. In others, including Kings Park, where local residents have fought development, state workers have boarded up the buildings and just kept the lawns cut.

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