By Howard Koplowitz
Nancy Cataldi, president of the Richmond Hill Historical Society and the historian for Maple Grove Cemetery who fought to get the neighborhood landmarked, died suddenly of a brain hemorrhage Thursday night, her boyfriend said. She was 55.
“She was the most caring, thoughtful person. She was always there for you,” said Steve Palow, the boyfriend. “She was beyond beautiful. If there was a saint on Earth, she was a saint.”
As president of the Richmond Hill Historical Society, Cataldi pushed for the preservation of the neighborhood’s Victorian homes, waging an unsuccessful fight with the city Landmarks Preservation Commission.
“We thought this is a nice area to try and preserve. Every time you turn around, somebody’s building a horrible McMansion,” Cataldi said in a July interview for a story on the historical society’s landmarking effort. “What we’re trying to preserve is that neighborliness, that community feeling. There’s a warmth in an old house.”
She did extensive renovations to her 1905 Victorian, which she purchased in 1994, by outfitting rooms with furniture that reflected the time period and installing a tin ceiling. The home received a Queensmark, first given to identify houses in the borough that were not being considered for landmarks.
“She wallpapered every room,” Palow said. “She restored it and brought it to life.”
Ivan Mrakovcic, the founding president of the historical society and Community Board 9 member, worked with Cataldi on her landmarking efforts.
“Nancy was such a powerful figure,” he said. “She was a great friend and she’ll be sorely missed.”
Jeff Gottlieb, the president of the Central Queens Historical Society, said he worked closely with Cataldi and remembered going on a walking tour that she held four years ago to highlight the need to landmark Richmond Hill.
“She had a love for the community,” Gottlieb said.
He said she was particularly concerned when neighborhood institutions, like Jahn’s ice cream parlor, closed down.
“These things, which many took as a way of life, she took as a loss for the community,” Gottlieb said.
After Richmond Hill’s Sikh community objected to the name of Smokey Oval Park because their religion forbids smoking, Cataldi pushed for the park to be renamed for Jack Kerouac, the Beat Generation author who lived in Richmond Hill and Ozone Park.
Instead, Smokey Oval was renamed after late Yankee shortstop Phil Rizutto, who was on Richmond Hill High School’s baseball team.
“I don’t know who else we could rename it after,” Cataldi said in an August 2007 interview. “Jack Kerouac is certainly one of the most famous people in the world.”
Cataldi was a graduate of Richmond Hill High School and the Fashion Institute of Technology, where she studied photography. Soon after her college graduation, Cataldi became a stylist, doing studio work for a women’s catalog, her boyfriend said. She later became a photographer for the New York Rangers in the 1980s.
Cataldi was also the historian for Maple Grove Cemetery, where she put together a program called “Spirits Alive!” that featured actors and volunteers dressing up as historical figures and telling their stories.
Her funeral was scheduled for 10 a.m. Friday at The Church of Holy Child Jesus in Richmond Hill followed by a private cremation.
Cataldi is survived by her father, Albert Cataldi Sr.; brothers Michael, Albert, Jr. and Joseph; and sister Rosemary Cataldi.