Couples Remember Grand Prospect Hall

The Grand Prospect Hall in Park Slope, Brooklyn, has hosted countless weddings since 1903, when it was rebuilt following a fire in 1900 that destroyed the original structure erected in 1892. But for some of the couples who celebrated marriages at the Victorian-style banquet hall, which grew its reputation with long-running TV ads, their memories are now bittersweet.

The hall closed in March 2020 because of the pandemic. It was later sold after its then co-owner Michael Halkias, who ran the venue with his wife Alice Halkias, died that May from complications of Covid.

The building’s new owner, Angelo Rigas, a contractor, intends to demolish it. The city’s Buildings Department issued demolition permits for the site on Nov. 3, public records show, weeks after a formal request for evaluation with the Landmarks Preservation Commission was denied in September.

Bill Farrell, a representative for Rigas, said there is currently no timeline in place for the demolition, but confirmed that the building will be demolished. The permit to knock down the structure expires in May 2022, but could be renewed to extend the expiration date, a representative for the Buildings Department said.

Speaking to five couples who were married or held receptions at Grand Prospect Hall, some lamented about the thought of never being able to see it or show it to their kids. But all said the venue and its many ornate details will remain intact in their memories.

The couple weren’t sure where to have their wedding reception in Brooklyn, planned for April 24, 1954. Mr. Drobnicki’s father, Ignatius, offered what proved to be an apt suggestion: “Why not Grand Prospect Hall? It’s wonderful,” Ms. Drobnicki, 92, recalled her father-in-law saying. (Her husband died in 2010.)

Ignatius, a Polish immigrant, was familiar with the hall: His two older sons, Bruno and Stanley, had their wedding receptions there in 1945, according to Ms. Drobnicki and her son, John.

And as the owner of Emerson Bakery, which stood at Emerson Place and DeKalb Avenue in Clinton Hill for more than two decades, Ignatius frequently made cakes for other local Polish couples who got married at Grand Prospect Hall, added Ms. Drobnicki, who lives in Queens.

When she and her husband-to-be made their first visit to the hall, “it just felt like home,” she said.

The pair married in a Catholic ceremony at St. John the Baptist church in Bedford-Stuyvesant before heading to Grand Prospect Hall with 159 guests, according to Ms. Drobnicki.

Dessert, made by Ignatius, was among the evening’s highlights: “The cake, of course, was delicious, because Pop made it,” Ms. Drobnicki said.

Of the venue, she added, “I didn’t think it was ornate at all. I just thought it was homey.”

Its likely destruction, Ms. Drobnicki said, is “just very sad because it was always such a wonderful place for people to remember their wedding day.”

The pitch that the Fraggettas received from Mr. Halkias was different from the ones they got at the other venues they had visited.

He regaled the couple with tales of the storied building’s history as an opera house and a speakeasy whose Prohibition-era patrons included Al Capone.

As Ms. Fraggetta, 41, put it: “It wasn’t the cookie-cutter wedding hall like we were used to going to.”

When they ascended the staircase that lead to the grand ballroom, which boasted balconies and 45-foot-high ceilings, “there was a big ‘wow factor,’” Mr. Fraggetta, 44, said. “It looked like something out of a history book.”

Many of the 250 guests at their Nov. 7, 2008, wedding reception had similar reactions, he added. “A lot of people commented that when you see the Grand Prospect Hall from the street, it doesn’t look like much,” he said. But stepping inside “made that wow factor that much more intense.”

The Fraggettas now live in Rockville, Md., but return to New York frequently to visit family. They were hoping their three children would one day have the same experience when they finally visited.

“From the outside, it’s a dark cement building — so they’re like, ‘Oh, you guys got married there?’” Ms. Fraggetta said.

The Collados grew up in two different states — she in Pennsylvania, he in New York — but both said they remember the popular commercials for Grand Prospect Hall playing on their televisions.

First filmed in 1986, the commercials featured Mr. Halkias and Ms. Halkias speaking over orchestral music from the hall’s staircase and, in some, offering a promise to “make your dreams come true.” In the years they aired, the ads were spoofed on “Saturday Night Live” and featured in a “Jimmy Kimmel Live” skit.

Mr. Collado, 31, and Ms. Collado, 34, never thought they would have their wedding there; she called the commercials “cheesy.”

But when she visited the hall — the last place on her list — she found it “stunning.”

“As soon as you walk in, you’re greeted with this gold and white staircase,” Ms. Collado said.

The couple had 200 guests at their wedding reception on April 11, 2015, which followed a ceremony at St. Matthias Church in Ridgewood, Queens, where they now live. The food served at the hall, pierogi with paella and empanadas, satisfied both families, they said. (She is Polish, he is Latino.)

“It shouldn’t be demolished given the history,” Mr. Collado said.

“The architecture is beyond; they have a whole backyard with a little waterfall, it was beautiful,” Ms. Collado added. “The day I read that it was going to possibly be demolished, I called Rafael. I said, ‘It’s sad.’”

Growing up in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, Mr. Melidoneas knew from a young age that his family had a special connection to, as he put it, the man who appeared on TV advertising his banquet hall in Park Slope.

Mr. Halkias had helped his grandparents obtain their American citizenship after they first arrived in Brooklyn from Greece in the 1960s, said Mr. Melidoneas, 37.

When the time came for him and Ms. Melidoneas to plan their wedding, they were both surprised to learn that, unlike the management of other venues they visited, the Halkiases would allow them to light a small, contained fire inside the hall as a part of their Hindu ceremony. (Ms. Melidoneas is Hindu and Mr. Melidoneas is Greek Orthodox.)

The tradition, known as saat phere, requires the bride and groom to encircle a fire seven times, sharing vows with each lap. “Other venues were not a fan,” said Ms. Melidoneas, 33. “It was kind of like, ‘Do it outside or don’t do it at all.’”

The couple were married at Grand Prospect Hall Oct. 20, 2012, with some 150 to 200 guests in attendance.

They now live in Miami, but on a September trip to visit Mr. Melidoneas’s family in Brooklyn, they drove by the building, as they often do when they’re in the area.

“It was all boarded up,” Mr. Melidoneas said. “It was sad to see that.”

When Ms. Morgan, 37, got engaged to the Rev. Morgan in 2008, she wanted to have “the best wedding people ever attended.”

Part of her plan was to evoke the opulence of the 1920s at the reception, with a “The Great Gatsby” theme.

The Rev. Morgan, 39, suggested they consider Grand Prospect Hall. Ms. Morgan had “never heard of it,” she said, despite living only a few blocks away at the time, on Third Avenue and 15th Street, and growing up in Bedford-Stuyvesant.

But when she saw the grand ballroom on a visit, she cried tears of happiness, she said. “This is exactly what I wanted,” Ms. Morgan recalled thinking.

Booking the ballroom — which could accommodate up to 1,700 people — typically required more than the 175 guests the couple had on their list. But the Halkiases let them use it for their July 17, 2009, wedding reception anyway, the couple said.

The Morgans, who live in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, now like to point out the building to their 3-year-old son when they drive by.

“The memories are there, and I’m grateful we have the memories,” the Rev. Morgan said.

But he was disappointed that the memories are probably all they have left. “It’s like a piece of us is going with it,” he said.