When Ted Baldanzi was four years old, his dad brought home one of the first Polaroid cameras. He still remembers those instant photos with wonder.
“It would be magic. They were the selfies of the time,” Baldanzi said on Wednesday.
He aims to bring that same sense of magic to Morristown, at his new 70 South Gallery.
The former Sandrian Camera–a local institution for 87 years–is being transformed into a portrait studio, high-end print shop and 1,400-square-foot gallery for exhibitions by pro photographers and Morristown High School students. A grand opening is set for Oct. 11, 2014.
Photography has enthralled Baldanzi since his childhood Polaroids. As a hobby, the Morris Township resident has shot countless Morristown High School field hockey and lacrosse games, and musicals at the high school and Frelinghuysen Middle School. Quite a few promising student photographers own cameras thanks to his generosity.
Like other longtime Sandrian customers, Baldanzi was saddened when owners Peter and Kathy Sandrian announced plans to close last December.
While admiring treasured photos of his grandparents from Italy, he lamented that the smartphone generation might never enjoy such special pleasures. Not without his help.
“Everybody takes digital pictures with their phones and their one-shot cameras, and it’s great. But that’s where they stay. It’s an unusual person who prints them and does something with them,” said Baldanzi, whose daughter Madalyn graduated from Morristown High a decade ago.
Among the workshops that Baldanzi envisions at 70 South is a “selfie class.” Not for teaching how to take selfies–“that’s the fun part”–but rather, to show what to do with them.
He is eager to celebrate and nurture talent.
“There is nowhere in the area for photographers to have a place of their own,” Baldanzi observed. He anticipates displaying three exhibitions simultaneously, rotating new shows into the mix every couple of months.
Patrons of the Mayo Performing Arts Center, he hopes, will be intrigued enough by the gallery to stop in for a look. The space will be available for private parties as well.
The gallery is part of a renaissance of sorts on the upper stretch of South Street. A high-profile restaurateur has invested $5 million to convert the historic Vail Mansion into a dining palace. The Mayo Center is completing a $2 million facelift. The Presbyterian Church is upgrading its Parish Hall. C’est Cheese, a venerable lunch spot, has new owners and a new look. Milano’s pizzeria just changed hands. The Iron Bar is expanding.
Baldanzi’s dream is backed by an enthusiastic staff: He has kept virtually everyone from the Sandrian days, and he intends to let them run the place.
“It’s a win-win for everybody. I couldn’t be more pleased,” said Kathy Sandrian. “I think people will really enjoy coming to print pictures here. It will be such a beautiful atmosphere, and it will be inspiring with all the pictures on the wall…We had gotten quite dated. It’s nice to see everything updated.”
Kathy’s husband, Peter Sandrian Jr., is a consultant. Their son Myles will oversee daily operations. Ira Black, Gina Cerbone and Barbara Fowler–all familiar faces–remain on board. Rebecca Beneroff, a recent MHS graduate, will serve as liaison to the school.
“I think it’s pretty awesome,” Myles Sandrian said of the gallery.
Baldanzi’s investment includes a pair of machines capable of churning out pristine 60-inch prints. He won’t divulge the costs of all this, but he does not appear concerned.
After working in his family’s industrial chemical distribution business in his native East Paterson (now Elmwood Park), he started Datacor, a software company in Florham Park that served the chemical industry. Baldanzi sold the business and retired four years ago. His wife Beth works for the Morris School District.
Baldanzi could not stop smiling as he showed a visitor around the gallery, still a work in progress.
“It’s a real bright, shiny new idea, right in the middle of Morristown. I think it will add a lot to the area,” he said.
There’s only one thing he promises you won’t ever find at 70 South.
“They know my pictures,” Baldanzi said sheepishly, nodding at his employees. “You’ll never see one of mine in the gallery.”