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St. George Theatre, A Place That Matters

st george theater interiorJust two months after the 1929 stock market crash, the doors of the lavish St. George Theatre opened at 35 Hyatt Street in Staten Island. Commissioned by Solomon Brill, the palatial theatre was intended to bring leading vaudeville acts, such as Al Jolson, Kate Smith and Guy Lombardo, to the island borough. It was also meant to rival to the great movie houses of the era. Eugene DeRosa, the architect for over 35 cinema houses in the New York City area, worked with Staten Island architect James Whitford to design the distinguished, though austere, exterior of the St. George Theatre. Any restraint on the exterior’s design is more than compensated for by the interior opulence. The extravagant Spanish and Italian Baroque interior was conjured up by Nestor Castro, who was responsible for designing many of Time Square’s finest theatre interiors as the art director for Libman-Spanjer. Outfitted with stately gilded balconies, luxurious velvet seats, sparkling chandeliers, epic murals, sculpted fountains and grand marble staircases, going to a show at the St. George Theatre was an experience in and of itself. Like many historic theatres, the St. George Theatre had trouble remaining viable and in good shape in the last few decades of the 20th century. The last remaining historic movie palace on Staten Island, for a while it seemed like it too may not have a future. The movie palace closed in 1972, and in the following thirty years, the theatre had a variety of owners and uses, none of which lasted very long. Everything changed in 2004 when Rosemary Cappozalo, a dance teacher for over forty years, stepped in and took on the seemingly impossible task of rehabilitating and restoring the theatre for the creation of a cultural and performing arts center. Cappozalo, along with her daughters and other supporters, took ownership of the building through the Richmond Dance Ensemble Inc. non-profit (now succeeded by the non-profit, the St. George Theatre Restoration Inc.). In a miraculous twelve weeks time, they had the building ready for its new life. The success of the restoration had a positive effect on its neighborhood. In her nomination of the theatre to the Place Matters census, Stephanie Gilmore writes, “The restoration and reopening of the St. George [was] the cornerstone in the revitalization of the community of St. George, Staten Island.” Today, the St. George Theatre is a vibrant space where a new generation of Staten Islanders can come to enjoy the arts and be entertained. Its annual Christmas Show is one of the theatre’s most popular events and is on stage this weekend, December 18 – 20. The show, which has become a family tradition over the past six years, features scenes set in the Rainbow Room and in Central Park and even has its own “Richmondettes” dancers. To learn more about the St. George Theatre, visit its website, www.stgeorgetheatre.com. To see the entry for the St. George Theatre, log on to Place Matters. Please tell your friends about these places of history, memory, and culture and invite them to join the Place Matters e-mail list.