St. George Theatre
35 Hyatt Street,
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Centered in the historic St. George District, the St. George Theatre in its' day was the most magnificent theatre on Staten Island. A beautiful 2,800 seat venue, Solomon Brill of the Isle Theatrical Company broke ground in August of 1928 and the doors of this palatial emporium opened on December 4th, 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 the Island and once owned a nickelodeon with William Fox 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 as a dream show house rivaling Manhattan’s cathedrals of cinema. At a time when many of the large movie houses were built by big Hollywood studios, Brill was an independent owner of fifteen theatres in the NYC 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 to the Fabian Theatre chain.
The Island’s newest movie and vaudeville house outshone most of its competitors of the day, including Manhattan’s Capitol Theatre on Broadway. Some of the theatres unique features 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.
History 1The main architect was Eugene DeRosa; he was assisted by Staten Island resident James Whitford, who was known as the “dean of Staten Island architects.” Mr. Whitford also designed the Ritz, Liberty and Victory theatres, none of which exist today. The ornate interior of the theatre was designed by Nestor Castro. Mr. Castro was the art director for the Libman-Spanjer Corporation which designed the interiors of many theatres in the Times Square area. The majority of the elaborate architecture that is 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 lobby is spacious with two box office windows and six windows displaying upcoming attractions. The foyer is illuminated by large stained glass chandeliers and majestic winding staircases lead up to the equally elaborate mezzanine level. Hanging above the grand lobby are oversized paintings of a bullfight and a Spanish village. Throughout the theatre are murals, tiled fountains and sculpted figures set in niches. The balcony and mezzanine originally had 1,400 seats and the orchestra section had another 1,600; about two thirds of those remain today.
The first movie to play was “So This Is College” and the headline act was the husband and wife team of Blossom Seeley and Benny Fields. The movie and vaudeville format featured performers such as Al Jolson, Kate Smith and Guy Lombardo. The live performances ended in 1934 but began again during the 1940’s when shows promoting the sale of war bonds featured personalities such as Rose Marie and Arthur Godfrey.
History 2The theatre was sold again in 1938 to the Fabian Theater chain who continued to operate it as a movie palace until 1972. Several owners since then have tried reincarnations that included a roller rink, an antique showroom and a night club, none of which were successful. Another attempt was made in the mid-1990’s to reopen as a performing arts center and a performance featuring Pat Cooper and Connie Francis was presented. This venture, too, failed and the owner ultimately gave up. With the exception of filming the finale of the 2003 film “School of Rock” at the theatre, it has basically remained shut for over thirty years.
Mrs. Rosemary Cappozalo with her daughters, 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 her daughters, they “saved” the St. George Theatre. The theatre had been padlocked for decades and a passer-by would have no idea of the rich history behind those gates. When they first entered the theatre, there was no electrical power, no plumbing, the bathroom ceilings were on the floor, large holes the size of their bodies where water was pouring through the ceilings, no orchestra seats, no carpeting, no stage lighting and no sound system, no heating system nor air-conditioning system. Despite all the obstacles, the ladies had the theatre open in twelve weeks time. With the support from the community, business leaders, elected officials, and their board of directors, they turned a white elephant into a beautiful, thriving, majestic theatre for Staten Island and all of New York City.
The magnificent St. George Theatre shines once again and serves Staten Island and all of New York. By polishing this treasured jewel, the integrity of its' unique structure will be maintained and a major boost will be given 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 and film shoots, concerts, comedy, Broadway touring companies, children’s shows and many local community events and performances.
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