Frank Sinatra’s Infamous Westchester Mob Photo
Plus: alligators on the loose, and mysterious ruins at Saxon Woods Park.
Q: I was just reading a Sinatra biography. I never realized that the famous, or actually infamous, photograph of him with the Mafia leaders was taken at the Westchester Premier Theater. What can you tell me about it, and is it proof that Sinatra was all mobbed up?
—Sal Alvaro, New Rochelle
A: Here’s what we know for sure. The theater in Tarrytown was razed in 1982 but, in its day, it was a top-shelf concert hall. Diana Ross opened the venue in March, 1975, and in its early years it catered to A-list performers. In all, Sinatra played 10 sold-out performances at the 3,600-seat theater between April 1976, and May 1977.
The famous photograph of Ol’ Blue Eyes was taken backstage after his April 11, 1976, performance. Sinatra is pictured with, among others, Carlo Gambino, Paul Castellano, and Jimmy “The Weasel” Fratianno. Gambino was, of course, “the Boss of Bosses” and the head of the crime family that still bears his name; Castellano was his successor. Fratianno was considered the West Coast head of organized crime until he testified against the mob in 1977 and entered
the Witness Protection Program in 1981. Castellano was later shot and killed outside of Sparks Steak House on the Upper East Side, presumably by John Gotti or a Gotti associate.
Crime writer Anthony Bruno says the “goodfellas” were at the Westchester concert that night and, at the end of the show, Gambino announced it was time to go back and see Frank. When Sinatra spotted Gambino, Bruno says, the Chairman of the Board hugged the “Godfather” and gave him a big kiss.
Sinatra recounted a different story. In 1981, when he testified in front of the Nevada Gaming Control Board in defense of his casino license application, he was asked about the photograph. He claimed that he never saw the eight men before in his life and that when they appeared backstage, he posed with them like he would with any other fans. The Nevada Gaming Control Board believed him enough to award him the license.
Controversy fueled by organized crime rumors surrounded the theater from its very construction. It went into bankruptcy in 1977, and three of its owners were charged with skimming and fraud. Later, Dick Clark operated it, but it remained in financial dire straits. In its final years, it died a slow, painful death, catering to B-level rock ’n’ roll shows until it closed in October 1982.
Q: I love this feature in Westchester Magazine and have a question. My family and I love to hike at Saxon Woods Park. Our latest few trips have taken us on a trail that has a small, stone house, in ruins but very clearly a house, so I guess it is in semi-ruins. We have peeked inside and walked around it, always wondering what the story of this little house was. It seems to have the remnants of a fireplace, so I don’t think it was used as a utility building. Anyway, any intel would be greatly appreciated.
—Sarah White and family, Scarsdale
A: Well, Sarah, thanks for the kind words. Our best to the family!
I’m glad you’re enjoying Westchester’s beautiful public parks. After all the nice things you said about this column, I wish I had a really intriguing response to your question. You know, what the heck, I’ll make one up.
That semi-ruined house used to be a secret Mafia hangout where the Capos would congregate and plan hits. No, that won’t get past the editors.
I’ve been warned about making up answers. I’d better give it to you straight.
That house was a comfort station built for hikers in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. There are other comfort stations like this one found throughout the parks in the County, and it was common for them to have fireplaces. As you noticed, some have fallen into disrepair.
Q: This past summer, the news reported that a two-foot alligator was found and removed from Wilson’s Woods Park in Mount Vernon. I feel silly even asking this, but did the gator swim up from the sewers of New York City or something?
—Maureen Noonan, Pleasantville
A: The notion that the New York City sewer system is filled with gators is, to say the least, a little bit silly. First, some background: The theory is that New Yorkers return from Florida with pet alligators and when the critters get too big they get flushed down the toilet or dumped in a sewer drain. Then they mate with other saurians that have met the same fate and they exponentially populate. Next thing you know, they’re sick of the city and heading up the Bronx River for some of Westchester’s semi-fresh air.
This little guy from last summer was undoubtedly a pet who got loose or who was deserted in the pond by his irresponsible jerk owner.
He’s not the first Westchester gator. This guy was the 10th confirmed alligator spotted in these parts in the last 100 years.
Another consequence of suburban sprawl.