November 6, 2023 saw the reopening of the historic St. George Theatre in Staten Island, New York, following a $4.5 million interior restoration project.
The theatre, originally constructed in 1929 as a vaudeville venue has a spacious lobby 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 1400 seats and the orchestra section had another 1600; about two thirds of those remain today.
The theatre was sold in 1938 to the Fabian Theater chain who continued to operate it as a movie palace until 1977.
Several owners since then have tried reincarnations of the space that included a roller rink, an antique showroom and a night club, none of which were successful. An attempt was made in the mid-1990’s to reopen as a performing arts center and several performances were 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, the venue was basically dark for over thirty years.
The much-needed work included restoring the lobby, repairing the interior plaster and paintwork and the installation of a new mosaic at the outdoor entrance. The new renovations to restore this 94-year-old landmark in downtown Staten Island have preserved this historic theater, improving the visitor experience, and permitting the theater to expand its community offerings.
“Once again, our Downtown Revitalization Initiative has brought yet another shining example of how partnerships in New York work together to bring diamonds back from the rough,” Governor Kathy Hochul said.
“The restoration of the St. George Theatre will not only be to the benefit of Staten Island, it will serve as a reminder to communities across our state that building back and building up is what we do here,” she added.
The interior restoration and renovation project of St. George Theatre came in three phases utilizing State and Federal grants as well as funding through the States’ Downtown Revitalization Initiative. An additional phase of work will encompass roof repairs.
Secretary of State Robert J. Rodriguez said, “The majestic St. George theatre has once again been brought to life and the Department of State is proud to have played a role through our Downtown Revitalization Initiative program. These physical improvements will enable the theater to maintain and grow it’s historical, cultural, and economic impact in the community. Through these investments, the theatre will be able to contribute to the greater downtown economy using arts and culture to draw thousands from the greater New York City metro area. This is exactly how the DRI is supposed to work. I thank Governor Hochul for her continued commitment to this program.”
Staten Island was designated as Round 4, Downtown Revitalization Initiative community recipient and the St George Theater was one of eight community projects awarded funding in November 2019. DRI funding allowed the theater to broaden its scope of work to enhance the entranceway, renew the historic interior lobby and address life-safety features.
Phase one (DRI) funding ($1.058 million) included:
- Installation of a custom mosaic at the front entrance that replicates the iconic interior artwork surrounding the theater’s majestic proscenium.
Restoration of interior woodwork, walls, murals and ceiling of the grand lobby.
Phase two (DASNY) funding ($1M) included:
- Renovating the mezzanine lobbies, outside restroom vestibules and a 2nd mezzanine in the back balcony.
Restoration of railings, walls, plasters, ceilings and mini murals, and walls under circle seating under the balcony.
Phase three (HUD and DASNY) funding ($2.492M) included:
- Installation of 7 stories of scaffolding to restore the walls, ceiling, dome, murals, plasterwork, 27 chandeliers and electrical work within the main seating area.
Local leaders praised the project:
State Senator Jessica Scarcella-Spanton said, “Today marks a great day for the St. George community as we celebrate this monumental restoration of the St. George Theatre. This $4.5 million interior restoration project not only breathes new life into this cherished venue— it also pays homage to its rich history. I couldn’t be prouder to witness this transformation, which will undoubtedly enhance the visitor experience and bring in the next generation of patrons.”
Assemblymember Charles D. Fall said, “My unwavering support for the second phase of this extraordinary project fills me with great joy and pride as the St. George Theatre is almost at the pinnacle of its restoration. Setting out on this path, we aimed to revitalize a cultural milestone for Staten Island, and now we nearly touch that dream. The devoted efforts of Evergreene Architectural Arts, Aurora Lamp Works, RJS Electrics, and Cube Construction have been pivotal in resurrecting this esteemed structure. As the grand reopening in November draws near, let’s reflect on how our contributions are investments not only in the physical edifice and its beauty but also in the cultural heartbeat and ethos of our community.”
Staten Island Borough President Vito Fossella said, “Over the years, we have been strong supporters of the St George Theatre. The St George Theatre continues to be a New York City jewel. We visited the theater last month to observe the finishing touches to the interior, especially the new mosaic artwork and scenery. Simply put, it looks great. We encourage all to stop by the theater to take a look, and, more importantly, to attend a show. They are terrific.”
Staten Island Economic Development Corporation President & CEO Mike Cusick said, “The St. George Theatre is a beloved jewel – a historic place that brings not only rich performing arts but also significant educational resources and economic development to our borough. I am proud to help deliver these State funds, which will continue to strengthen the entertainment and community enrichment this institution offers guests, performers, and Staten Islanders for years to come.”
Staten Island Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Linda Baran said, “The St. George Theatre is the heartbeat of the neighborhood and continues to beat thanks to the Downtown Revitalization Initiative and other City, State, and Federal funding. These funds have been critical towards the restoration efforts that began with the theater’s reopening by Doreen, Luanne, and their mom, ‘Mrs. Rosemary,’ in 2004. Kudos to the team for their efforts in keeping this cultural gem thriving.”
St. George Theatre Owners Doreen P. Cugno and Luanne Sorrentino said, “We are beyond thrilled to welcome everyone to our magnificent, sparkling gem. The St. George Theatre has been transformed back to its original glory from top to bottom. From the moment you walk by or step in, you can marvel by its beauty. The newly restored front entrance murals mimic the interiors original design so that the exterior now matches the brilliance of the interior. Shining, glistening and truly a dream come true. Thank you to our elected officials for making this dream a reality. Staten Island is lucky to have this leading lady and now it’s preserved and shining bright for the next century of theatre goers for sure. BRAVO!”
In 2004, Mrs. Rosemary Cappozalo with her daughters, Luanne Sorrentino, and Doreen Cugno, started a not-for-profit organization to save this historic theatre from being torn down. Mrs. Rosemary, a prominent dance educator, donated her life savings (over one million dollars) to the organization and saved the St. George Theatre.
Photos courtesy of St. George Theatre.