Frank Castagna, philanthropist and influential Long Island real estate developer, died Tuesday from a year-long fight with cancer. He was 91.
Born in 1928 and raised in Sheepshead Bay, Castagna earned a degree in civil engineering from Pennsylvania Military Academy before applying those skills at his father’s construction firm, which was soon renamed to Castagna & Son. Over the years, the family-owned business was responsible for many major public contracts on Long Island and in New York City, including Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, the correctional facilities on Rikers Island, New York State Supreme Courthouse, and the New York City Police headquarters.
The firm was also responsible for major healthcare and education sector developments, including North Shore University Hospital, New Bellevue Hospital, Stony Brook University Hospital, Harlem Hospital, Coney Island Hospital, Great Neck South Middle School, and buildings at Hofstra University, Yeshiva University, and Adelphi University.
Constructed in the 1950s, the crown jewel of the firm’s impressive portfolio remains the 220,000-square-foot Americana Manhasset, a luxury fashion development whose commanding presence has drawn high-end tenants such as Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Gucci, and the independently-owned luxury store Hirschleifer’s.
Loath to call it merely a “mall,” Castagna emphasized the experiential factor of the Americana, which spends hundreds of thousands of dollars annually on fresh flowers alone.
“The first thing people say is, ‘Don’t you love the flowers?’” he was quoted as once saying.
In the 1980s, the newly renamed Castagna Realty expanded its luxury shopping destinations with Wheatley Plaza in Greenvale.
“With his generosity of spirit, Frank touched countless people in both his business and his personal life, and for him there was hardly a line between the two,” Americana Manhasset wrote in a memorial to Castagna. Sneakerology, a tenant at Wheatley Plaza, remembered him as “a friend and a mentor for 40 years.”
Alongside his wife Rita, of the family originally behind Ronzoni Macaroni, Castagna was active in philanthropic efforts across the Island, serving on the board of trustees for Old Westbury Gardens, North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, Nassau County Museum of Art and The Viscardi Center, among many others. Under their leadership, Castagna Realty also hosts an annual Champions for Charity benefit that raised more than $1 million for local charities in 2019. For these and countless other philanthropic efforts, the couple has been honored with numerous awards from local organizations.
“Frank Castagna was an absolute prince,” Charles A. Riley, director of the Nassau County Museum of Art, told the Press. “So many of the highlights of the 30-year history of the Nassau County Museum are the direct result of his magnanimity and perfect taste. The Museum as it is today is unimaginable without his guidance.”
“Personally, I think of Mr. Castagna’s civility as a paradigm that we all strive to live up to, a torch he has passed onto future generations,” he added.
Castagna is survived by his wife Rita; daughter Catherine, who is now the president of Castagna Realty after her father’s 50-year tenure, and her husband Ernie; son Fred; grandsons Brian, Michael, Frank and Mario; and step-granddaughters Amber and Marissa.
The funeral will be private. In keeping with Castagna’s philanthropy, the family has requested donations be made to the Nassau County Museum of Art, North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center and Island Harvest in lieu of flowers.