As lights shone across the surface of Johnstown’s Stone Bridge, Frank Marsico’s life came full circle.
The head of New York City-based Shadowstone – which designed the bridge’s lighting system – had seen his career take him into large corporations and the halls of U.S. government, and to major events around the world.
But the western Pennsylvania native was drawn back home to help illuminate this historic structure in the county where his wife, Michelle, grew up.
He was lured by the opportunity to work alongside longtime friend Richard Burkert, president of the Johnstown Area Heritage Association.
And in the end, Marsico was so moved by the effort in Johnstown to repair and light the Stone Bridge that he donated $12,000 of his own money to launch a fund to support ongoing costs such as maintenance and electricity.
“It was a community thing,” said Marsico, who was raised near Pittsburgh. “I’ve done national TV shows and big events. But this was under the skin. And a lot of people were very dedicated to making it happen. So I don’t feel like I’m giving back. I feel like I’m giving, too.”
Marsico and Burkert met when they were fine-arts students at IUP in the early 1970s.
Marsico moved to New York to study theater lighting at New York University.
Burkert also landed for a time in New York, working on a master’s degree in history at Columbia.
While attending NYU, Marsico worked with productions both on and off Broadway, and also in marketing for a lights manufacturer.
From 1982-93, Marsico and an Italian business partner developed a product line used to light the press room used by President Ronald Reagan at the White House, and for early night football on ABC.
Marsico launched his own company, Shadowstone, in 1993. Shadowstone’s technology appeared at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta; on Oprah Winfrey’s Oxygen network, which launched in 2000; on CBS election news sets; and at events from Europe to Southeast Asia.
Shadowstone now has 30 employees including two of Marsico’s sons. The company contributed lighting to the recent film “Mr. Popper’s Penguins,” which required working in cold temperatures because of the animals, and currently is developing a system for a Chinese television studio that is scheduled to begin broadcasting from Washington, D.C., in January.
Through it all, he stayed in touch with his old college buddy, who had settled in Johnstown.
And as Burkert, Mike Brosig of Laurel Holdings and others began putting together plans to resurface and light the Stone Bridge, the JAHA chief sent an e-mail to his friend in New York.
“Richard wrote me and asked, ‘Have you ever lighted a bridge?’ Well it turned out I had,” Marsico said.
Burkert recalled: “It happened to be the Brooklyn Bridge.
“He doesn’t make a business of lighting bridges,” Burkert added. “But the new programmable LED lights for external use had just come on the market. He thought that technology would be perfect for this project.”
Michelle Marsico is a native of Spangler, now Northern Cambria. The couple returned to Cambria County often, both for the bridge project and to visit her father, who died in 2009 after battling an illness.
“That bridge became more to us than another contract,” Frank Marsico said.
Blalock Electric installed Shadowstone’s light system, which is operated by computer and can be set to music – as it was for a show when the project went public on Sept. 24.
“Most other bridges, when they’re lit, the lights are static – they don’t move,” Marsico said. “The reason I think I was right for this project is that we weren’t just doing architectural lighting in the background, but really doing theatrical lighting, where the lights reflect emotions and moods.”
Marsico’s emotions now include pride in the work done at the Stone Bridge and affection for others involved with the project.
“This was a team effort, a group project,” he said.
“Watching Mike and his dedication to this project, and knowing Rick and seeing how much they put into it, and then talking to the guys at Blalock Electric, who felt that this is a special project – it was all of those things.
“Plus, my wife’s family is there and my family is near there.
“My wife and I are sentimental. ... We know where we come from. And the chance to hook back up with Richard was a bonus.”
Burkert said: “It’s very interesting, these social networks we have where people you knew a decade or more ago come back into your life. ... It was kind of weirdly fated. I never thought I’d be working with Frank.”
Chip Minemyer is the editor of The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 532-5091.