St. George, Staten Island

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St. George is a neighborhood on the northeastern tip of Staten Island in New York City, where the Kill Van Kull enters Upper New York Bay. It is the most densely developed neighborhood on Staten Island, and the location of the administrative center for the borough and for the coterminous Richmond County. The Staten Island terminal of the Staten Island Ferry is located here, as well as the northern terminus of the Staten Island Railway. St. George is bordered on the south by the neighborhood of Tompkinsville and on the west by the neighborhood of New Brighton.

Contents

History

The Revolution

Fort Hill[1][2], one of the hills overlooking the harbor, was the location on Duxbury's Point or Ducksberry Point [1] fortified by the British during the American Revolutionary War. The area was primarily rural through the early 19th century.
A Tudor-style home on Fort Hill where the British fort once stood.

Naming of St. George

The name was derived not from the dragon-slaying saint, but from George Law, a developer who acquired rights to the waterfront at bargain prices. According to island historians Charles Leng and William T. Davis, it was only after another prominent businessman, Erastus Wiman, promised to "canonize" him in the town's name that Law agreed to relinquish the land rights for a ferry terminal.[3] In the late 1880s, Wiman operated the Staten Island Amusement Company in the neighborhood, offering public athletic events, an illuminated fountain, and pageants. The St. George Cricket Grounds was part of that complex, but only lasted a few years.

File:FerryJ432x324-13396.jpg
The Staten Island Ferry.

The Heyday

In the 1830s, the area facing the Kill Van Kull became a fashionable resort area, with the construction of several elegant hotels along St. Mark's Place across from the present site of Curtis High School (the oldest High School on Staten Island). The grandest and last of these hotels was the Hotel Castleton, built in 1889 and destroyed by fire in 1907. In 1918, the Staten Island Institute of Arts and Sciences moved to its present location in the neighborhood. The United States Coast Guard operated a facility in the neighborhood until moving to Governors Island in 1967. In the early 20th century the neighborhood grew rapidly: municipal ferry service to Manhattan began in 1905. The neighborhood had several elegant buildings by the architectural firm of Carrère and Hastings. These included a branch of the New York Public Library (1906), the present Staten Island Borough Hall (1906), and the Richmond County Courthouse (1919).

Borough Hall
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Brick wall near the ferry terminal
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Hyatt Street and the unassuming exterior of the St. George Theater.
St Peters Roman Catholic Church

In 1924, the "Saint George" telephone exchange was established in the new North Staten Island building of New York Telephone; this became "SAint George 7" when New York City's service underwent a major upgrade six years later. This three-digit prefix, now identified by numbers — "727" — is the only one of five exchanges which existed immediately prior to the aforementioned upgrade that is still in service on the island (in addition to St. George itself, this numeric designation is encountered in many other North Shore communities, as far away as Mariners Harbor to the west and South Beach and Grasmere to the south).

Construction began on the beautiful 2,800 seat venue, the St. George Theatre in August 1928 and the doors of this picture palace opened on December 4, 1929. The cost of the project, which included an office complex, was $2 million, $500,000 of which was for the theater. Solomon Brill, who owned several other theaters on the Island, promised to bring top-of-the-line vaudeville to the borough for 75 cents. He envisioned the St. George Theatre as a show house to rival Manhattan's cinema palaces. At a time when many large movie houses were built by Hollywood studios, Brill was an independent owner of 15 theatres in the NYC area. Before he died in 1932, he sold his interest in the St. George Theatre to William Fox, whose name lives on in the Fox Television Network and 20th Century Fox film studio.

The main architect was Eugene De Rosa; 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 theaters, none of which exist today. The ornate interior of the theater was designed by Nestor Castro. Mr. Castro was the art director for the Libman-Spanjer Corporation which designed the interiors of many theaters in the Times Square area. Most of the elaborate architecture visible to theater patrons is the result of Mr. Castro's artistry. The St. George Theatre's interior is a variety of Spanish and Italian Baroque styles. The island's newest movie and vaudeville house outshone most of its competitors, including Manhattan's Capitol Theater on Broadway. The theater features included the absence of any obstructions, a $25,000 Wurlitzer organ, an advanced cooling and heating system, one of the largest cantilevered balconies ever built, and velvet seats, gilded balconies, and grand staircases.

Decline

The neighborhood went into decline following the construction in 1964 of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, which shifted the center of development and commerce on Staten Island to the interior of the island.

Renaissance

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A unique Victorian home in The St. George Historic District
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Mansion on Daniel Low Terrace
Hyatt Street, future piazza

The community underwent a revival in the late 1990s and property values have continued to rise since 2000. In 1994, The New York Landmarks Preservation Commission designated a St. George Historic District. The historic district consists of 78 houses and one church—St. Peters Roman Catholic, the oldest parish on Staten Island—and is a mix of Victorian styles, such as Queen Anne, Shingle style, Colonial Revival, and Tudor. Currently, the area of Fort Hill comprises the remains of the streets and homes where the descendants of the Tompkins, Westervelt and Low families lived. Here originally stood the mansion of Vice President and former New York State Governor Daniel D. Tompkins, the Anson Phelps-Stokes mansion and the Daniel Low mansion. Another prominent landowner was August Belmont, whose name is enshrined in Belmont Place. Many of the houses remaining today represent the homes and summer homes of the Low-Tompkins extended family and friends.

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1930 Fort Hill home modeled after a Spanish castle

The residential Fort Hill area is home to many professionals who commute daily to Manhattan on the ferry, and includes many well-tended examples of Victorian, Tudor, and art deco architecture, in addition to one house modeled after a Spanish castle.[4][5]. Another popular upscale residential development, Bay Street Landing, abuts the bay between the ferry terminal and the head of Victory Boulevard. Many condominium buildings are currently being built along the shore, and near the ferry terminal, as they offer unsurpassed views of lower Manhattan and easy access via the free Staten Island Ferry.

The National Lighthouse Museum[6] (listed on the National Register of Historic Places) and the adjacent St. George post office are immediately east of the St. George ferry terminal.

File:Richmond County Bank Ballpark.jpg
Richmond County Bank Ballpark

The Richmond County Bank Ballpark, the home of the Staten Island Yankees, a minor league farm club of the New York Yankees opened in 2001. The stadium offers dramatic views of the harbor and the Manhattan skyline.

The 55 year old St. George Ferry terminal recently underwent a $130 million dollar renovation and now features floor-to-ceiling glass for panoramic views of the harbor and incoming ferries.[7]

The Hyatt St. side of a municipal parking lot faces the St. George theater. This part of the lot is noted for the greenmarket held on it during spring, summer and fall. The lot encompasses a paved over graveyard of the former quarantine that has led to some controversy.[8]

Culture

Museums

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The Staten Island Museum

The Staten Island Institute of Arts & Sciences is located just two blocks west of the Staten Island Ferry Terminal, It explores the arts, natural science, and local history of the island.

In 1997 lighthouse organizations across the United States banded together to create a National Lighthouse Museum, which will tell the story of the United States Lighthouse Service. The museum will feature interactive exhibits and displays on the history, technology, and architecture of lighthouses, lightships and other aids to navigation, from primitive fire beacons to the Global Positioning System. The site selected is the old USLHS/US Coast Guard “super depot” at St. George, which was the major center for lighthouse supply, maintenance and experimentation for nearly 150 years. The site consists of 10 acres (40,000 m2) of waterfront property with five historic USLHS buildings, a public plaza and an 850-foot (260 m) pier.

Fine Arts

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Waterfront memorial to victims of Sept 11 attacks

Artists and musicians have been moving to Staten Island's North Shore so they can be in close proximity to Manhattan but also have enough affordable space to live and work in. Recently The New York Times[9][10] and NY1 News [11] featured Staten Island has a haven for artists.

Theater

The St. George Theater The newly renovated St. George Theatre is a landmarked building. A variety of activities, including outreach educational programs, architectural tours, television and film shoots, concerts, comedy, Broadway touring companies, and children's shows takek place there.[12]

St. George in Film

When the movie industry was centered on Long Island, scenes in many films were shot on Staten Island, and several actors had residences in St. Ge orge, or built houses for their relatives.

Among St. George's recent appearances is the murder scene in Brian De Palma's 1973 film Sisters {with Margot Kidder playing both separated conjoined twins, Danielle and Dominique (the doppelgänger) took place in the apartment building on Hamilton Avenue between Stuyvesant Place and Academy Place. The opening scenes of the 1981 horror film "Wolfen" starring Albert Finney were shot in St. George, and the area has served as a stand-in for many nameless small towns, as was the case in the low-budget 1984 film "Death Mask" starring Farley Granger as a medical examiner who becomes obsessed with finding out the ID of a young boy found dead. The finale of the 2003 Jack Black film “School of Rock” was shot at The St. George Theater.

Actor Paul Newman and his wife, actor Joanne Woodward, lived in the Art Deco building The Ambassador on Daniel Low Terrace between Crescent Avenue and Fort Hill Circle in their early days in film. Actor Martin Sheen lived in the same building, and his son Emilio Estevez was born there.

September 11 Memorial

The St. George waterfront is the location of the Staten Island September 11 Memorial.

Education

Public libraries

New York Public Library operates the St. George Library Center at 5 Central Avenue, near Borough Hall.[2]

External Links

St. George Civic Association web site.
St. George Historic Preservation web site.
St. George Theatre

See also

References

  1. NYPL Old Names on Staten ISland
  2. "St. George Library Center." New York Public Library. Retrieved on December 22, 2008.

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Coordinates: 40°38′36″N 74°04′44″W / 40.64333°N 74.07889°W / 40.64333; -74.07889Template:StatenIsland-geo-stub

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