Stuart Match Suna founded Silvercup Studios in 1982. Today it occupies nearly half a million square feet of studio space in Long Island City for television, films and the advertising and commercial industry. Touring this Studio—he’s today the President of the company—took nearly an hour. There are 19 stages, a rooftop space, costume and actors’ facilities, writers’ rooms, stage set building rooms and so forth and so on, and it’s within these walls TV shows such as 30 Rock, Ugly Betty, Mad Men and The Sopranos, and films such as Sex and the City, Julie and Julia, The Devil Wears Prada, Gangs of New York, Meet the Parents and Little Nicky are made.
“I run a hotel here,” Suna told me. “We rent these spaces—some are as big as football fields—by the day or week or month, and creative work goes on.”
Stuart Suna was born in Manhattan in 1955, the son of a man who was in the sheet metal business. Harry Suna owned Asuna Sheet Metal near La Guardia Airport and another metal working business, Arrow Louvre and Damper, in the Bronx. He lived in Forest Hills with his wife Bernice and had two sons, Alan and Stuart. When Stuart was four, his father, prospering in the post-war building era, moved his family to a nice home in Roslyn. Alan and Stuart went to Roslyn High School.
Stuart has an interesting memory of those early days. He was in a Cub Scout troop. One day, the leader took them on an outing to what was then the Silvercup bread factory in Long Island City. It was a huge place, with great silos of flour, huge baking ovens, wrapping and packing factory floors and an indoor area where trucks could come in and, as the giant, 20-foot-tall sign on the roof read “Silvercup Bread, the World’s Finest,” offload the material from which it was made. It made a great impression on the young scout. At the end of that tour, management gave each of the cubs a loaf of bread.
After graduating high school, Alan went to Architectural School at Cornell and a few years later Stuart, more interested in sculpture and the arts, went to Skidmore where, after his second year, he transferred to Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. He would get two degrees, one in Architecture and the other in Fine Arts.
It was on his Christmas vacation during his last year at Carnegie Mellon, that things happened in Stuart’s life that headed him off on his incredible career.
His father, at this point, took him and his brother to the Silvercup Bread Factory in Long Island City, which Stuart remembered from his Cub Scout days. The factory was shut down now, abandoned when a management and labor dispute could not be resolved. The bank, who now owned the abandoned building, wanted to sell it. And Harry wanted to buy it. Over the years, Harry’s steel-making firms had worked on major projects. They had built the exterior blue panels for Shea Stadium. They had done steel work for Windows on the World, the restaurant at the top of the World Trade Center. They had done many other projects in the city as well.
During this time, Harry also saw an opportunity in buying abandoned buildings. He had bought small ones and renovated them and rented them as apartments. He had also bought buildings and fixed them up to become rentable commercial space.
Here at Silvercup, Harry was with representatives of the bank, being shown around. It was 270,000 square feet all together. Harry’s idea was to bring down his Bronx factory, Arrow Louvre and Damper and his Asuna sheet metal factory near La Guardia Airport to this building, and then rent out the rest of the space.
He and his boys, one grown, the other almost, had talked this over. Perhaps it could be made into tennis courts. Perhaps it could be made into apartments. Perhaps there was something else.
Among those who Stuart talked to during that visit was the caretaker of this vast abandoned building, Joe Szabo. And Joe Szabo told him that NBC had made inquiries about buying the building to make it into TV studios. It had a great effect on Stuart Suna.
“This, I thought, was a really good use for this space,” Stuart said.
Armed with this information, he talked to his father and brother and they decided to buy the building, using whatever space dad didn’t need for the sheet metal business space for the entertainment business.
Suna also had a personal request. He’d be graduating shortly. Among other spaces he had seen in the building was an enormous walk-in refrigerator room—the size of a city loft —in which milk and yeast for the bread factory had been stored. He asked if he could have that as a place to live, where he could do his architectural designing and his sculptures. His father said sure.
It was several years after that Christmas that this vast building, at least part of it, was put back into service. During that time, Alan worked in an architectural office in Manhattan, and Stuart worked at the John Warnacke architectural offices also in Manhattan. He worked there almost two years “at $6 an hour” he told me, living in a rental apartment on 27th Street and Third Avenue. At this point, the building in Long Island City was moving along, but still not done. Stuart felt, however, that he would like to work for his father and oversee the use of the 200,000 square feet that his father would not be taking. (Between the Sheet Metal and the Leaders and Gutters factory, Harry would need just 30,000 square feet.
In the end, Harry was only able to move his sheet metal business into the building. There were union rules in the sheet metal business. But then there were different union rules in the gutters and leaders business. The union declined to have both businesses in one building, thinking the workers might be taken advantage of. And so, what Stuart and Alan Suna were left with was not 200,000 square feet but 255,000 square feet to figure out what to do with.
Silvercup Studios opened for business, partially completed, in 1983. The great sign stayed on the roof, at least the giant, 20-foot-tall SILVERCUP part of it. The words below it, smaller, were “the world’s finest,” and they took these letters down and used some of them to make the word “studios” which went back up. Actually, they were able to find every letter except “u” in the words “the world’s finest.” They had to make a matching new “U.”
They had hoped to open with five studios, but on opening day, only one, Studio Five, was ready. So that was where they had their first tenant.
“A production company rented the space for a Cool Whip commercial starring Betty White,” Stuart told me, remembering it all fondly.
The first movies were also shot in that studio that year. These were Woody Allen’s Purple Rose of Cairo and Broadway Danny Rose. They were in business.
In 1983, still living on 27th Street, Stuart, having gotten his architectural degree, completed his apprenticeship and applied to take the test to get his architectural license.
“I went to a class given at a design center in Brooklyn to prepare for the test,” Stuart said, “and there I met my future wife, Vicki. She was in the room also prepping for the test. I had at least seen her earlier. We had gone to Roslyn High School together. But I hadn’t said two words to her then. It just never happened that we met. I went over and introduced myself.”
Vicki and Stuart were married in 1986 and moved into 27th Street. Vicki’s maiden name was Match. They agreed to both use Match as a middle name. Vicki Match Suna and Stuart Match Suna thus went out to meet the world. The following year the loft room was ready and they moved out to Long Island City.
“It was, and is, a wonderful loft space,” Stuart told me. He and his wife lived there for many years. His two daughters, Zoe and Rose, were born in 1992 and 1995 while they lived there. After ten years, they bought an apartment in Manattan and moved there. When I saw the loft on my tour, it was offices.
“The room when I first saw it had no windows,” Stuart said. “It had glass block where windows were supposed to be, but they were painted black on the inside. I replaced them with double pane windows. There is the patio outside. You have views to the east, the south and the west. You can watch both sunrise and sunset. The sun streams in.”
The loft ceiling is 14 feet up. For part of it, there is a balcony. Up there, Stuart did his architectural work. Under it, in an enclosed area, behind some glass block (from the former window spaces) he did his sculptures.
Over the years, Silvercup expanded. There is a Silvercup East not far away, which has a further 100,000xxx square of additional studio space. There is a planned Silvercup West, which will hopefully be built and include huge residential and office skyscrapers.
Vicki Match Suna continued with her architectural career for a number of years, (working on the Swiss Bank Tower on Fifth Avenue and the Medical Library at New York Hospital among other things) and is today the Senior Vice President of Langone Hospital and Vice Dean for Real Estate at Langone Medical School, where she oversees $3 billion worth of construction.
As for Stuart, he continued growing the Silvercup business. In 1993—he and his family had built a home in East Hampton by that time—he joined the board of the Hamptons International Film Festival at its founding. He was also its first major contributor. He is chairman of the board of the film festival today. Stuart sits on four other charitable boards today.
Among the many films and TV shows filmed at Silvercup including Adam Sandler’s Big Daddy and Little Nicky, one that stands out for him was the film Highlander starring Sean Connery. In that movie, a fight scene was supposed to take place on the roof of Silvercup behind the sign and next to the building’s water tower. Stuart had not seen the script. And, among other things, at that time, he was in contract to have the water tower taken down.
“When it came time for the scene, they said ‘where’s the water tower?’ and when I told them it had been taken down they said please put it back up. I demurred. In the end, they CGI’d the water tower back. It crashes through the roof and down into the floors below during the fight. Also in this scene, someone is thrown off the roof. Of course, about four feet down over the edge there were mattresses for them to fall on, so they could climb back up to shoot it again.”
Stuart remembered Woody Allen, at the completion of a scene for one of his films, being startled when Stuart opened the double doors to the outside to hear jackhammering going on in the building next door. We heard nothing! he told Suna. That’s what you pay us for, Suna told Allen.
Stuart recalls that during the early years, Howard Stern rented an apartment space in the building so he could have a place to stay when he was working in the city.
“We became good friends. Still are. He’s really a wonderful person, nothing at all like his radio show persona.”
And Suna remembers Alec Baldwin, who he’s known for a long time, recently approaching him.
“He told me he didn’t want to be on the honorary board of the film festival any longer. He wanted to be on the real Board, he wanted to pay his dues, give back, and so he has. He has created a film series at the John Drew Theater, given major funding to Guild Hall, given funds to the film festival. What a wonderful man.”
He recalled Christie Brinkley and Billy Joel, when they were married, making the music video “Uptown Girl” at the studio.
And then there was this scene.
“Early on, we rented a studio for a Russian TV production. The deal was that 20 Russians, would be flown from Moscow to an unknown location somewhere in the world – the plane windows would have the shades down, and then these people, blindfolded, would be taken to an unknown place where they would have to live for two weeks in a large room. There were 10 men and 10 women. Their destination was Silvercup. We set them up in a studio designed as an apartment where TV cameras could monitor every moment of their days and nights. The rules were that at the end of every day, the Russian TV audience would vote someone off. Keep in mind they didn’t even know what COUNTRY they were in.
“During the second week, they were allowed out in pairs, cameras accompanying them, to have to find a way to make money to support everyone in the apartment. At that moment they knew where they were. They had done this in Germany the year before. The women had become prostitutes. I told them here they could not do that and have it filmed here. So they refrained.
“One interesting aspect of this was there was a spiral staircase that went up to the roof, and they wanted to use the roof for smoking. We built an eight foot tall wooden fence along the borders of the roof. And within those walls, they smoked.
The tour was over. I left. Outside the front door, there is a large red canvas awning just like one you might see in front of a big city hotel. It is a hotel. The Suna Hotel. The Silvercup. Welcome, sir.