St. George Theatre
25 Hyatt Street,
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Located in the historic St. George district of Staten Island, close to the Staten Island ferry terminal. The St. George Theatre is the most magnificent theatre on Staten Island. A beautiful 2,800 seat theatre, Solomon Brill of the Isle Theatrical Company broke ground in August of 1928, and the doors of this palatial emporium opened on December 4, 1929. The cost of the project, which included an attached office complex, was two million dollars, $500,000 of which was for the theatre. Brill, who owned several other theatres on Staten Island and once owned a nickelodeon with William Fox (later of 20th Century Fox fame), promised to bring top-of-the-line vaudeville to the borough for an admission fee of 75 cents. He envisioned the St. George Theatre as a dream show-house rivalling Manhattan’s cathedrals of cinema. At a time when many of the larger movie houses were built by the big Hollywood studios, Brill was an independent owner of 15 theatres in the NCY area. Prior to his death in 1932, he sold one half of his interest in the St. George Theatre to Joseph Kohn, who later sold it to the Fabian Theatre chain.
Staten Island’s newest movie & vaudeville house outshone most of its competitors of the day, including Manhattan’s Capitol Theatre on Broadway. Some of the unique features of the theatre included the absence of any obstructions, a $25,000 Wurlitzer organ, an advanced cooling & heating system, one of the largest cantilevered balconies ever built and velvet seats, gilded balconies and grand staircases completed the picture.
The main architect was Eugene DeRosa, who was assisted by Staten Island resident James Whitford, who was known as the ‘dean of Staten Island architects’. Mr Whitford also designed the Ritz Theatre, Liberty Theatre and Victory Theatre, all on Staten Island, none of which exist today. The ornate interior decoration of the St. George Theatre was designed by Nester Castro. Mr Castro was the art director for the Libman-Spanjar Corporation which designed the interiors of many of the theatres in the Times Square area. The majority of the elaborate decorations visible to theatre patrons is the result of Mr Castro’s artistic genius.
The St. George Theatre’s interior is a variety of Spanish and Italian Baroque styles. The outer lobby is spacious with two box office windows and six windows displaying upcoming attractions. The main foyer is illuminated by large stained glass chandeliers and majestic winding staircases which lead up to an equally elaborate mezzanine level. Hanging on the walls of the grand foyer are oversized paintings of a bullfight and a Spanish village. Throughout the theatre are murals, tiled fountains and sculptured figures set in niches. The balcony and mezzanine originally had 1,400 seats, and the orchestra section had another 1,600 seats, about two thirds of those remain today.
The opening movie was “So This Is College” staring Elliott Nugent, Robert Montgomery and Cliff Edwards. The headline act on the stage was the husband & wife team of Blossom Seeley & Benny Fields. The movie & vaudeville format in the early years featured performers such as Al Jolson, Kate Smith and Guy Lombardo. The live performances ended in 1934, but began again in the 1940’s when shows promoting the sale of War Bonds featured personalities such as Rose Marie & Arthur Godfrey.
The St. George Theatre was sold to the Fabian Theatres chain in 1938 and they continued to operate the theatre until 1972. After the Fabian organization departed, the theatre was taken over briefly by a former manager who ran it as a movie house until 1976. In April that year, it passed to a group of young entrepreneurs, Victoria Theatres, who operated the St. George Theatre for almost one year – from April 1976 to February 1977. In that time many memorable films played on the theatre’s screen, including, among others “The Exorcist”, “Taxi Driver”, “Deliverance” and “Woodstock”. Live acts as diverse as Sly Stone, Chaka Khan and Lester Flatt graced the stage in that year as well. After Victoria Theatres departed, the owner of the building made a brief attempt to keep the St. George Theatre open as a movie house. Then several entrepreneurs tried to revive it as a dinner theatre, a nightclub and an antiques showroom, but none were successful. Another attempt was made in the mid-1990’s to reopen as a performing arts center and a performance featuring Pat Cooper & Connie Francis was presented. This venture, too, also failed and the owner eventually gave up. With the exception of filming the finale of the 2003 movie “School of Rock” at the theatre, it basically remained shuttered until Mrs Rosemary Cappozalo with her daughter, Luanne Sorrentino, and Doreen Cugno, began a not-for-profit organization in 2004 to save this historic theatre from being torn down.
Mrs Rosemary donated her life savings (over one million dollars) to the organization and along with he daughters, they ‘saved’ the St. George Theatre. The theatre had been padlocked for over a decade and a passer-by would have no idea of the rich history behind its gates. When they first entered the building, there was no electrical power, no plumbing, the bathroom ceilings were on the floor, large holes the size of their bodies where water poured through the ceilings, no orchestra seats, no carpeting, no stage lighting and no sound system. Despite all the obstacles, the ladies had the theatre open in 12 weeks time. With the support of the business community, business leaders, elected officials, and their board of directors, they turned a ‘white elephant’ into a beautiful thriving, majestic theatre again.
The magnificent St. George Theatre shines once again and serves Staten Island and all New York. By polishing this treasured jewel, the integrity of its' unique structure is being maintained, giving a major boost to the revitalization efforts of this North Shore community. It serves as a cultural arts center for a myriad of activities including outreach educational programs, architectural tours, television & film shoots, concerts, comedy, Broadway touring companies, children’s shows and many local community events and performances.
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