Francis “Frank” Castagna, one of Long Island’s most prominent real estate developers and philanthropists who counted among his projects the Americana Manhasset, a crown jewel of retailing on the Miracle Mile, has died.
Castagna died at his home after a nearly yearlong battle with cancer, according to an obituary posted online on Tuesday that did not specify the day he died. He was 91.
Castagna was born on Sept. 19, 1928, the son of Italian-born hospital builder Ferdinand Castagna and his wife, Henrietta (nee Vogliazzo), and grew up in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. He graduated from the Pennsylvania Military Academy, now Widener University, with a degree in civil engineering in 1950, and joined his father’s construction firm, Gerace and Castagna, as an assistant field engineer soon after. The elder Castagna renamed the company Castagna and Son in 1953.
The company, which was renamed Castagna Realty upon Ferdinand’s death in 1972, became renowned for its projects on Long Island, including Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale; the library, dormitories, student center and footbridge over Hempstead Turnpike at Hofstra University, the Swirbul Library at Adelphi University, North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, the Nassau County Medical Center, Great Neck North Middle School, the Dealertrack headquarters in North Hills, and the Wheatley Plaza shopping center in Greenvale.
Further west, in the five boroughs, the Castagnas’ projects include work on the New York City Police Department’s headquarters, the correctional center at Rikers Island, Bellevue Hospital, Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University, the New York State Supreme Courthouse and the Federal Courthouse in Brooklyn, Harlem Hospital and Coney Island Hospital.
In 1955, the father and son purchased the property that would later be developed into what The New York Times dubbed the “crown jewel” of their company’s holdings: the Americana Manhasset, a shopping center full of luxury brands located on the Miracle Mile on Northern Boulevard.
Today the Americana houses over 50 international boutiques, including Gucci, Dior, Cartier, Fendi, Hermès, Prada, Louis Vuitton, Tiffany & Co., Ralph Lauren, Giorgio Armani, Chanel, Hirshleifers, Bottega Veneta, Ermenegildo Zegna, and London Jewelers, among others, as well as the home for Castagna Realty’s offices.
In 1956, Castagna married his wife, Rita, the daughter of Emanuel Ronzoni of the Ronzoni Macaroni Co., now owned by General Foods. Rita Castagna also serves as a principal in Castagna Realty, with their daughter Catherine serving as president.
The couple later later became benefactors of the North Shore Child and Family Guidance Center, Northwell Health System Partners Council, the Henry Viscardi Center in Albertson, Momma’s House, the Tilles Center for the Performing Arts and the Nassau County Museum of Art.
Together and individually, they have received honors from the North Shore Land Alliance, the Safe Center Long Island, the Long Island Association, St. Francis Hospital, the Nassau County Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the American Cancer Society Asian Initiatives, the Maurer Foundation for Breast Health Education and Sid Jacobson JCC in East Hills, among others.
Castagna also served on the board of directors for Old Westbury Gardens, Honors College at Hofstra University and the American Jewish Committee.
Additionally, one of Castagna Realty’s longest-running initiatives, the holiday shopping event Champions for Charity at the Americana Manhasset, has brought in nearly $10 million for over 100 nonprofit organizations.
“Frank was known for his vision, integrity, kindness and compassion,” Castagna Realty said in a statement. “He did business on a handshake and garnered immense respect and admiration from the CEOs of global fashion brands, real estate development partners, charity directors, and his Castagna Realty team, among others. While he was an understated, humble and consummate gentleman, Frank also had an irrepressible smile and love of life.”
”Generally, we work on the basis that we’re part of a community,” Castagna told The Times in 1997. ”If the community benefits, then we benefit. What’s best for the community is what’s best for ourselves and our family.”
In addition to his wife of over 60 years, Castagna is survived by his children Catherine (Ernie) and Fred, and his grandsons Brian, Michael, Frank and Mario, and step-granddaughters Amber and Marissa. He was predeceased by his son Paul.
Services and gatherings at this time are private, and the family requests that any donations in Castagna’s name be made to North Shore Child and Family Guidance Center, the Nassau County Museum of Art and Island Harvest.