A group of doctors has joined forces with preservationists and local elected officials around lower Manhattan in an effort to stop Mount Sinai from closing and selling the Second Avenue building that houses the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary.

The historic building between 13th and 14th streets in Manhattan, known in part because of its role in the renowned film “The Godfather,” in which Michael Corleone, played by Al Pacino, rescues his father, has made headlines as reports have indicated it might soon be put up for sale. And according to the co-director of the cataracts division, Dr. Richard Koplin, Mount Sinai has already closed its specialty emergency room, slowed many of the services it historically provided – including his own cataracts program – and failed to retain its doctors and staff.

“That gives us all the impression that they do not care about the infirmary or that space, because they're logically going to sell it and move all this material to these other four or five locations, which they've said they're going to do,” said Koplin, an accomplished eye surgeon. “What they're really doing is dismantling the historic Eye and Ear Infirmary as a distinct entity, which had a tremendous service obligation to the community.”

Representatives from Mount Sinai confirmed they were moving out of the facility but emphasized it would still be providing services.

"Mount Sinai Health System has embarked on a multimillion dollar plan to strengthen and modernize all NYEE programs and services by moving them into new and newly renovated ambulatory settings," said Mount Sinai spokesperson Jason Kaplan. "And not a single current NYEE service – clinical, educational, and research — will be closing as a result of this transformation."

But doctors and preservationists are trying to save the facility itself, and will join local elected officials on Tuesday to rally publicly at the Village Preservation building at 232 East 11th Street at 2:30 p.m. in support of the institution and to shine a light on the building’s potential existential threat.

According to the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary’s website, the facility opened in 1820 as the first specialty eye hospital in the western hemisphere. It’s been at the same Second Avenue and East 13th Street location since 1856.

For most of its history, the infirmary was independently run. In 1999, it became a member of Continuum Health Partners Inc. And then in 2013, Mount Sinai Medical Center merged with Continuum, placing it in charge of the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary.

Since then, there has been a noted drop in commitment to the hospital’s mission, despite promises to invest into and improve it, Koplin said.

In a press release in 2016 announcing a $500 million investment to its downtown network, Mount Sinai explicitly expressed its commitment to keeping the facility intact when it said, “New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai will be preserved and enhanced.” But Mount Sinai has since been vague with the details of the infirmary’s future, Koplin said in an interview with Gothamist.

“They're dancing around this,” he said. “They want to sell the property to a developer and they want to take that money and they want to put it into [another Mount Sinai location] Beth Israel,” he alleged.

Those who want to preserve the facility argued that the building itself has historical value.

“It's a striking Romanesque revival building where some incredible advancements in health care, particularly for people who are hearing or visually impaired, have taken place over the years of services,” said Andrew Berman, executive director of Village Preservation. He added that construction of the building was so significant that in 1903, "Helen Keller was actually the featured speaker at the ribbon cutting.”

Berman added, “Fast forward 120 years, and due to consolidations and other restructuring going on, the building looks as though it may not have much of a future.”

A sale of the building could potentially bring in as much as $70 million, according to a report in the New York Post.

Earlier this year, Village Preservation wrote a letter to Mayor Eric Adams and the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission asking to designate the building a New York City landmark, speaking to the building’s architectural significance. The group also helped create an online petition for the cause.

Koplin, now 80, said he spent his entire career at the infirmary. In the 1980s, he was part of a team that developed laser eye surgery instruments still used today, and opened the New York Eye Trauma center. Now, at the twilight of his career, he said he wants to see the infirmary continue on for years to come.

“I would rather not leave a legacy of loss,” he said. “I would rather feel that there's a way of reinventing the infirmary for the 21st century, and I don't think Sinai is going about it properly. I think they are not giving a thought. I don't think they care. At the end of the day, it's about money.”

This story has been updated with additional information.

Correction: A previous version of this story included a quote that inaccurately cited the date of Helen Keller's visit to the facility. It was 1903.