The stage from that point onward went dark, as did all the theater’s 2672 seats — at least the ones that hadn’t been busted up by some of our more reckless patrons. From time to time erstwhile entrepreneurs tried their hands at filling the gorgeous Spanish Baroque space — a flea market, a roller rink--but the theater would remain largely abandoned for almost thirty years, surviving a fire with — thanks to its fire curtain — hardly any damage, and coming perilously close, on several occasions, to demolition. Demolition, often preceded by abandonment, has been the fate of so many great old theaters — and other things too.
Try Googling “abandoned,” some time and see what you find. My personal preference happens to be abandoned movie palaces ( see afterthefinalcurtain.net) for its chilling images of wrecked domes, cobwebbed velvet seats and warped stages), but you might also find, among so many sites, a hospital-as-wildlife-sanctuary (on New York City’s uninhabited North Brother Island), an abandoned Shaker colony (in West Union [Busro], Indiana), even something called “Mariner’s Marsh,” (a deserted industrial site/wildlife sanctuary/murder site, with a sunken ship graveyard nearby, in Staten Island). At the risk of citing my own community too many times, might I add Staten Island’s laudable grassroots organization, “Friends of Abandoned Cemeteries,” which has rescued twelve local — and in most cases historic--burial grounds from an accumulation of weeds, rusting cars, refrigerators, vandalism and toxic waste.
Waste. In a landscape dotted with discarded styrofoam cups, it’s still hard to get your head around why buildings are thrown away too — abandoned or torn down. A lot of other people must agree, given the interest in abandonedusa.com, a site which is browsable by state.
Staten Island shares a harbor with Manhattan and Brooklyn, its sister boroughs. On the Brooklyn side, Loew’s Kings, one of the five “Wonder Theaters” of the greater NYC area, has made a heroic comeback as the Kings Theatre, after years of neglect. 1977 was the year we lost the St. George. In that same year, with a last showing of "Bruce Lee: The Man, The Myth" in late August 1977, the Kings (which, like the St. George, opened in 1929) closed its doors. It was still remarkably intact. But the thirty years that followed — of water damage and vandalism, including at least one live shoot-out--required dedication and major post-millennial bucks (more than 93.9 million) to set things right. If the Kings hadn’t been, from 1979 onward, the property of New York City itself, it likely would not have survived. It was blessed, as Harlem’s Apollo, saved in 1981 by Percy Sutton and a group of supporters — was also blessed. The St. George, after our departure and thirty years of darkness, was, remarkably, spared and saved, thanks to the heroic efforts of a local family, Mrs. Rosemary Cappozalo (deceased), in league with her daughters, Luanne Sorrrentino and Doreen Cugno. Scores of other theaters weren’t so fortunate, though many had valiant groups of citizens, rallying to prevent demolition.
Here’s to the RKO Albee in Cincinnati (demolished, despite considerable protest in 1977, the year we lost the St. George), and how about the Boyd Theater in Philadelphia (recently taken down, despite a passionate fight by Friends of the Boyd, in 2014)? Or the Garrick Theater in Chicago (an opera house designed, in part, by Louis Sullivan, demolished in 1960). The Paramount in Los Angeles — aka Grauman’s Metropolitan — was said to be the largest movie theater ever built in that city — quite a brag (dismantled in 1961). I’ll let New York’s Roxy take the last bow, whose demolition at least made the cover of Life, in 1960, with an elegant gowned Gloria Swanson standing in its ruins (see the photo, above).