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Staten Island, Not Only a “Bedroom Community”: the Forgotten Borough

A day spent roaming through the Victorian streets of St. George, or in the exquisite Chinese Gardens in Snug Harbor, would be a lovely surprise

Staten Island Ferry (Pixabay).

Staten Island, as most NewYorkers would agree, is a breed apart from the other boroughs; with hopes by developers, of turning it into a version of Brooklyn! Part of its forgotten reputation lies in its lack of a cultural life. Mostly thought of as a bedroom community, it would not generally be considered, when deciding on an evening out

When I began a film location division at Sotheby’s in 2004, one of the first to call and request to be included in the program was Countess Cynthia Von Buhler. If her name sounds familiar, it’s due to the widely published work she’s done over the last 20 years, mainly based on her immersive theatrical productions. In 2004, she was working in the meatpacking district and renting ‘CVB Space’ for locations/ film/ photo shoots…very similar to what I was orchestrating. She was not only booking locations, for her own space, but was directing an entirely new concept in performance art. The creator of a series of multi-interdisciplinary programs, focusing on exhibitions using dollhouses to create her blend of magic, Cynthia is a gifted artist who has achieved tremendous success thru her unusual form of ‘story telling’.  

In the years since, she has been cited by publications such as “Forbes” who called her a ‘creative genius’. “The Gothamist” zeroed in on her rare form of hypnotic entertainment with its review citing how ‘she seduces you away from your sense of reality into a more subconscious dreamlike state of mind’. In “Paper Magazine” the critic writes; ‘Von Buhler strikes a good balance between entertaining her guests and telling a story’. She spent many of these creative years in St George, Staten Island, where she called an old gothic mansion, home! A highly conducive environment for expanding on her otherworldly creations. It was in this extraordinary mini castle where she first envisioned transporting her guests back in time to a place where one could imagine great 1920’s style speakeasy soirees, as well as setting a stage for allowing ones imagination to run wild.

As I had not been familiar with this section in Staten Island; much of Cynthia’s surroundings intrigued me. I visited her home with several location scouts intent on booking her gothic mansion and while there meandered through the winding streets of this ‘well-kept secret’ . Staten Island, as most NewYorkers would agree, is a breed apart from the other boroughs; with hopes by developers, of turning it into a version of Brooklyn! Part of its forgotten reputation lies in its lack of a cultural life. Mostly thought of as a bedroom community, it would not generally be considered, when deciding on an evening out.    

St George / Fort Hill is the first community you enter as you step off the Ferry. St George was named for a land baron, George Law, who acquired Staten Island waterfront rights at ‘bargain prices’; agreeing to relinquish some of these rights for a ferry terminal.  The St George Theatre on Hyatt Street, which opened in 1929, retains a relatively unimposing façade . However upon entering, one is awed by its grandeur. Its interior is based on Spanish Baroque architecture, and has been lovingly restored by a group of workers under the helm of local businesswoman/owner, Rosemary Cappozalo. It now serves as a performance arts center and has also become Staten Island’s first premier concert venue. 

Chinese Scholars Garden.

The first of the Victorian classic homes, heading north along St Marks Place, was once owned by Frank Alvah Parsons. In the early 1900’s he added programs in interior design & graphic design to the Castleton School, which was eventually named for him as the Parsons School of Design, now part of the New School.

Cynthia Von Buhler’s home was modeled after a Spanish castle on the site that remains one of the highest points in Fort Hill. It was used by the British during the Revolutionary War. In 2007, Cynthia curated a show ‘what I am now you will one day be’ which was inspired by a church in Italy that preserves the bones of mortality; ‘cimitero dei cappuccini’ with an assemblage of chandeliers, decorative molding and walls, reinventing the ‘ashes to ashes’ theme.    

Although she sold her home in 2010 for a Manhattan brownstone; her creative spirit continues. Her most recent work will be opening on Sept 26th at Theatre 80 – St Marks Place. New York audiences will be transported back to 1926 to experience a world of speakeasies, back stage intrigue and hotel room affairs while unravelling the untimely death of legendary illusionist Harry Houdini. The play unfolds on 3 floors of an historic East Village townhouse transformed into a prohibition-era time capsule. This magical caper ‘the girl who handcuffed Harry Houdini.’  Is CVB’s latest artistic creation. Total audience participation is required.   

Entrance to Snug Harbor

While living in SI she mentioned one of her favorite spots; highly recommended for a day trip. The Chinese Scholar’s Garden in Sung Harbor was on the top of her list. After researching this quiet gem, I can understand why. The Gardens add a new dimension to our understanding of life in ancient China. It features magnificent rockery, resembling mountains said to be the inspiration for the poetry and paintings of Confucion, Buddhist & Taoist monks. The setting is based on the Ming Dynasty Gardens and is 1 of only 2 authentic Scholar’s Gardens in the US. Opened till Nov. 4th and closed for the winter.

If you are as unfamiliar with this forgotten borough as I, a day spent roaming through the Victorian streets of St. George, or meditating in the exquisite Chinese Gardens in Snug Harbor, would be a lovely surprise for all New Yorkers, looking to round out their knowledge of New York City.

https://www.minkywoodcock.com/theater.html
CVB – currently at Theatre 80 – St. Marks Place thru Nov. 10th *Wire Fraud is Real*.  Before wiring any money, call the intended recipient at a number you know is valid to confirm the instructions. Additionally, please note that the sender does not have authority to bind a party to a real estate contract via written or verbal communication.

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