Staten Island woman's labor of love revitalizes theater, neighborhood

ST. GEORGE, Staten Island (WABC) -- Just steps from where the Staten Island Ferry drops off passengers, a restored movie theater has brought new life to the historic St. George section of the borough.

The grateful residents owe it all to one woman's dedication, which led to the revival of an entire neighborhood.

Almost 90 years ago, a movie theater with 2,800 seats was built in the area, rivaling the best the other boroughs had to offer.

"It was built in 1929, and it was a movie palace," the St. George Theatre Foundation's Luanne Sorrentino said.

But time took its toll, and the St. George Theatre was almost lost forever. Step inside today, and you will find the spendors of a lost world.

"You couldn't duplicate this beautiful gem, this beautiful jewel," the St. George Theatre Foundation's Doreen Cugno said. "Look at the interior design, it's second to none. Look at the plaster work, the chandeliers, the murals. It really is

Sorrentino and Cugno are the daughters of the late Rosemary Cappozalo, who spent her life savings to save the theater from demolition.

"She had great fond memories here growing up," Cugno said. "And she didn't want this history to be torn down or forgotten."

Still, the theater had suffered so much neglect through the years.

"The only ones finding comfort in here were the raccoons and the birds," Sorrentino said.

More than a dozen years and millions of dollars later, the theater is alive, well and run by the not-for-profit foundation. It has been re-invented as a rock venue, and each act is invited to add to the history of the place by signing a wall outside the dressing room.

"I think we were the pioneers to revitalize this entire neighborhood," Sorrentino said.

Once depressed, the area is now thriving.

"The perception of this area is cool, swanky, sexy, come hang out here," Cugno said.

The St. George offers a new twist on an old line: If you re-build it, they will come.

"Two years from now, this is going to be a world-class destination," Sorrentino said.

Within sight of the theater is a vast construction site where the word's tallest Ferris wheel is being constructed near a garage that will be able to hold almost 1,000 cars. The New York Wheel is scheduled to open next spring.
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