It served as a lookout point for the British during the Revolutionary War. It was a resort community filled with grand hotels where the wealthy sought escape during the summer months. It's been home to numerous types of architecture and served as the civic and commercial center of Staten Island. It has been and continues to be a transportation hub that connects Staten Islanders to the rest of the city.
In their new book "St. George," part of Arcadia Publishing's Images of America series, local historic preservationists David Goldfarb and James G. Ferreri delve into the history of the North Shore community that stares off its shores toward the Manhattan skyline.
They look back to the 1830s when the area became known as New Brighton to the development of Borough Hall and the courthouse in the early 20th century to the Postcards memorial for Sept. 11 victims that can be found there today.
"St. George played an important part in American history," said Ferreri, who writes the "Present, Past, Future" column for the Advance. "That's what I'd like them [readers] to take away. I ask the same in my columns, that everyone on Staten Island have a little more pride in the place that we live. We contributed a lot to history."
According to the authors, Arcadia approached Goldfarb, past president of the St. George Civic Association, a little more than a year ago about writing the book. He then asked Ferreri, whom he knows through membership in the Preservation League of Staten Island and Historic Districts Council, to write it with him.
"We combined our resources," said Goldfarb, an attorney practicing in Manhattan who has lived in St. George since 1973. Through the years, Goldfarb and Ferreri both collected photos of the community and they were able to gain access to local historical archives. Together, they came up with the around 200 images found in the pictorial book.
There are images of the Greek Revival "temples" built along the shore as the community developed; places of worship, including the Brighton Heights Reformed Church, which was destroyed by fire in 1996; hotels that helped establish St. George as a resort town, and the Ambassador Apartments that were once residence to Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward and Martin Sheen.
Goldfarb mentioned how St. George was one of the first planned suburban communities in the country. "They [readers] can see the cultural history of the area and the town," he said. "When you walk the streets of St. George and see crescents on the hill, you don't realize they go back to the 1820s and '30s, when it was a planned community."
CONCERNED FOR FUTURE
Ferreri, a state certified interior designer, noted that St. George's past as a resort community is one of the things he finds most fascinating. At one point, it featured a casino and amusement company, and many wealthy New Yorkers came there to vacation. He added that the Staten Island Ferry has and still does serve as a tourist attraction.
"I want people to know there's a very historic town on the other side of the ferry coming from Manhattan," said Ferreri, who currently lives in Grymes Hill. During the late 1990s, he owned a house built in 1869 on Richmond Terrace that has since been demolished.
Both Ferreri and Goldfarb worry about the future of St. George and its historic homes, especially with new zoning laws that allow developers to erect 20-story residential buildings. Advocates of the new laws believe they can help revitalize the area, but the authors wonder if higher is necessarily better.
"I would love to see it retain a sense of what it is and not just turn into another non-descript, high-rise town center," Ferreri said.
Goldfarb added, "We hope it will continue as a neighborhood people will cherish and love and live in with their families."