Music greats Tony Bennett and Quincy Jones helped Astoria welcome the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts’ (FSSA) new home with a ribbon cutting ceremony Monday, September 21 that celebrated the legacy of Ol’ Blue Eyes and the value of arts education.
Fundraising for the high school’s new $78 million building was spearheaded by Bennett, an Astoria native, Sinatra pal and founder of the public school.
“The fact that in Life magazine he called me his favorite singer – I’ve never gotten over that,” said Bennett, who was born Anthony Benedetto 83 years ago.
“So that’s where it’s at. That’s why this school is called the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts,” added Bennett, whose quip got a laugh out of Sinatra’s daughter, Nancy.
Jones offered the students some words of wisdom that Frank Sinatra once gave him, “Live every day like it’s your last, and one day you’ll be right.”
The school, which has 732 students and can hold 1,000, sits on land donated by the Kaufman Astoria Studios, which is based on the opposite side of 35th Avenue. Studios president Hal Rosenbluth said the school fits with the vision George Kaufman had for the neighborhood when he renovated and reopened the studio in 1980.
“His goal has been, ‘What can happen in the neighborhood, as well?’” Rosenbluth said. Kaufman Astoria Studios was built in 1920. Between 1940 and 1970, the building – by then known as the Army Pictorial Center – was used by the U.S. Army. In 1980, the city handed the space over to Kaufman.
Today, the complex also includes the Museum of the Moving Image, a 14-screen movie theater and restaurants.
“It’s all finally coming to fruition,” Rosenbluth said. “It’s really neat. How else can you describe it?”
Susan Rodriguez, a partner with Polshek Partnership Architects, designed the school, which features natural light, a rooftop garden, two dance studios and a concert hall named for Bennett.
“Their whole life is about performance, so this building is a metaphor for that,” she said of the students. “It really celebrates all of what is so very exciting about the arts.”
Esther Beckoff, whose daughter, Rose, is a vocal major at FSSA, said she’s impressed with the new building – and the school’s arts curriculum. Beckoff said her daughter gladly makes the 45-minute morning commute to FSSA from Hollis Hills.
“She doesn’t mind getting up early,” Beckoff said. “She doesn’t mind making the trip.”
The school, which first opened eight years ago in a borrowed Long Island City space, is a model for arts education throughout the city, said Queens Borough President Helen Marshall, who spoke at the ceremony.
“Astoria is part of Queens and it’s part of this city, and what’s happening here – we need to replicate it around our city,” she told the crowd.
Standing in the airy lobby after the ceremony, Marshall praised Bennett’s involvement with the arts and said other city schools could benefit from such high-profile help.
“Parents and students will walk a mile to get the right education,” Marshall said. “We’ve got to put more of this into the world.”