Suffolk Theater

118 E. Main Street,
Riverhead, NY 11901

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chelydra
chelydra on October 20, 2009 at 1:19 pm

Moved to Riverhead a few months ago, into a home owned (1922-2009) by the family that owned the old West Main Street theatre (predating Suffolk). Unfortunately they didn’t leave any memorabilia behind, but perhaps I can contact our seller to see if she can help us set up a web page for her grandfather’s theater.
Although my glib remarks in my first post above struck some as slanderous, I’ve always liked Riverhead a lot, and totally fell in love with the town while staying with family at one of the local trailer parks. Aside from the better-known tourist destinations (the historic and amazing Vail-Levitt Music Hall, aquarium, annual Blues Festival, etc.), it’s worth a visit (even a major family outing from the city) just to have a sundae at the Star Confectionary (Roanoke & Main), or to shop at Griffing Hardware (Osborn & West Main). Show your grandkids what America was like before you were born. (Note: If you must go to the monstrous Tanger Mall at the west end of town, the only decent store there, with value for money, is (believe it or not) Brooks Brothers. All the rest are scams.)
The Suffolk Theater is still dormant. No one seems to know what’s going there. Several rival groups are, as always, scheming to “revive” Main Street (some say the landlords are the problem, others say they’re the solution). Ever since the Town decided (circa 1959) to chop down all the grand old shade trees (due to bird poop on car windshields), Main Street has been in a tailspin â€" there are plenty of other factors at work, but that event marked the beginning of the end. What’s bringing Main Street back to life now (aside from a couple of nice pubs with good pricey food) are the Mexican and Guatemalan groceries and restaurants â€" check out the restaurant just east of the tracks, reputed to be the most authentic and best on the island.
Sooner or later, the Suffolk Theater has to be reborn â€" that is, if there’s any trace of its former glory still intact when the town is finally ready to get its act together.

robboehm
robboehm on June 18, 2009 at 2:49 pm

I was just in Riverhead today. Nothing seems to be happening at the theatre. Who pays the electric bill for the marquee. Once, as a child summering on eastern LI I attended a showing of The Key with William Holden and Sophia Loren. There was also a promo with the local WT Grant store. The theatre gave you a key and you went to Grant’s to see if it opened the box. It did and I won boys briefs.
Referencing Sammie Girl’s earlier posting Riverhead had the misfortune of having a downtown populated by chain stores that either went out of business or had financial difficulty. Freeport also had a similar problem. Add Sears to the closed stores. Riverhead now has more empties than full. The Marine Store relocated to Route 58 and the Bagel Store across from the school complex. Chase took over one of the banks and closed their original Main Street branch. The Dinosauer and Reptile Museums closed but the Atlantis Marina packs them in. Except for some specialty type stores the restaurants are the big thing. It’s the courts that keep them alive.

Lost Memory
Lost Memory on May 14, 2009 at 9:16 pm

This is a close-up shot from 1983.

Bway
Bway on April 20, 2009 at 1:30 pm

I like how they have “Flashdance” “What a Feeling” on the marquee….

sameegrl
sameegrl on July 26, 2008 at 8:40 pm

Sigh, I remember going to see a double bill of Grease and Saturday Night Theater here, as well as seeing Poltergeist. It’s a beautiful theater inside. I also remember seeing my cousins band play here at a battle of the bands in the late 70’s/early 80’s.
I have a beautiful black and white shot that my cousin took a few years back. Main St. isn’t the same since the theater closed and Sweezy’s, Linton’s, Rimland’s, and Woolworth closed their doors.

Lost Memory
Lost Memory on May 2, 2008 at 10:11 pm

The address on the Suffolk Theater website is still listed as 11 West Main Street. Which is the correct address for this theater? The phone number is 631.208.0003

wally 75
wally 75 on October 8, 2007 at 12:17 pm

was in riverhead for the country fair….on marque was

www.suffolktheater.com

check it out…

from what i understand from talking to merchants ..no matter who runs the theatre or buys the theatre if they should ever fail it can not be sold out from under town..i did a guest spot on WLNG 92.1FM
we talked about the theatre and how important it is to the town..
also, talk to AMY CSORNY…doing a run for a town council…
she tolk me when she talks to shop owners in the town, the 2nd or 3rd
question she gets asked is about the theatre..

AntonyRoma
AntonyRoma on October 1, 2007 at 3:57 pm

The fact that all 15 of R. Thomas Short’s theater designs were on Long Island was what made me conclude he was a local guy (albeit via Canada).

I used to pass The Suffolk when I took the ferry to Greenport on my wat to the Moriches. Last time was about 10 years ago and I can remember thinking I’d like to check it out sometime. Never realized what a great place it was.

This is a very nice page. Keep the outlanders out.

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on October 1, 2007 at 1:58 pm

Queens theatres were always listed under “Long Island,” along with theatres in Nassau and Suffolk Counties, in film industry directories such as the Film Daily Year Book and Motion Picture Almanac. For whatever reason(s), those publications did not consider Brooklyn as part of Long Island, even though it actually is.

Lost Memory
Lost Memory on October 1, 2007 at 1:35 pm

The Suffolk Theater website also claims “Mr. Short’s legacy includes eleven movie theatres on Long Island”. There are only three Long Island theaters listed here with R. Thomas Short as architect. The Suffolk Theater, the Huntington/IMAC Theater and the Fantasy Theater. Where were the other nine theaters located? I wonder if the Suffolk Theater website is including Queens as part of Long Island which still wouldn’t add up to eleven. Here is the list of theaters on Cinema Treasures with R. Thomas Short as archiect.

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on October 1, 2007 at 1:13 pm

The official website has more incorrect information about architect R. Thomas Short, apparently lifted from that same New York Times article currently under discussion at the CT listing for Loew’s Willard. Short was no longer associated with Harde when Short started designing theatres.

Lost Memory
Lost Memory on October 1, 2007 at 12:37 pm

This is the website for the Suffolk Theater. The address given on the website is 11 West Main Street.

Lost Memory
Lost Memory on May 20, 2007 at 10:30 am

Here is a 2007 photo of the Suffolk Theater.

Bway
Bway on July 5, 2006 at 7:00 am

Wow, it’s like a time capsule. The movie posters for the coming attractions are still hanging on the walls. Roxanne, Superman 4…. Those movies were released in 1987 I believe, so the theater must have closed in 1987.
The following 20 years did it’s toll on the building. It needs a lot of work, but it is a diamond in the rough. it’s a beautiful building, and much of it’s great features are all still there waiting to be restored.

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on July 3, 2006 at 7:31 am

I did some restoration of two of those photos to get a clearer view of the auditorium, which has a small balcony. The ceiling chandeliers are probably the original:
www.i8.photobucket.com/albums/a18/Warrengwhiz/suffolkaud.jpg
www.i8.photobucket.com/albums/a18/Warrengwhiz/suffolk41.jpg

Lost Memory
Lost Memory on July 3, 2006 at 6:06 am

This website has photos of the Suffolk Theater. Look for the “Next” button near the middle of the page. Click that button to see other photos.

Bway
Bway on June 8, 2006 at 8:39 am

What’s the latest on the Suffolk? it’s been a while since I have heard anything on the progress (or non-progress).

Lost Memory
Lost Memory on March 8, 2006 at 3:44 pm

This is a small photo of the Suffolk Theater.

Paul Noble
Paul Noble on July 17, 2005 at 10:00 am

From today’s New York Times Sunday Long Island section:
Long Island
Things Are Looking Up in Downtown Riverhead

By JOHN RATHER
Published: July 17, 2005
Riverhead

CYNICS around here used to say that nearly every house and building in town was for sale, if only someone would make an offer.

Whether this was ever true is doubtful, but it is surely not so now. Riverhead – the historic, but in spots seedy, seat of Suffolk County – is about to pop.

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Deirdre Brennan for The New York Times
The exterior of the Suffolk Theater on East Main Street in Riverhead.

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Deirdre Brennan for The New York Times
The interior of the 1933 Suffolk Theater has elaborate tile work, above, and etched-glass egrets.

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Deirdre Brennan for The New York Times
The Suffolk Theater, which has been closed since 1987, once had 800 seats.
That, at least, is the opinion of Robert Castaldi, a specialist in historic restoration, and other optimists who believe that empty stores on Main Street will soon be filled or replaced by new buildings, even five-story hotels, as downtown Riverhead is reborn, in accord with a new town master plan, as a perfectly situated center of arts, culture, entertainment and affordable living.

Mr. Castaldi, the owner of Castle Restoration and Construction in Long Island City, Queens, and his wife, Dianne, paid the town $707,000 in February for the Suffolk Theater on East Main Street, a rare surviving Art Deco movie house that had been sliding into dereliction.

The theater, the last of 11 on Long Island designed by R. Thomas Short, was built in 1933 but has been vacant since 1987. The Castaldis say they will make it the cornerstone of the new Riverhead.

In a bet on the downtown’s revival as a regional destination, the Castaldis, who have a home on Nassau Point in Southold, are spending about $1 million of their own money on the theater project, including the purchase price. Mr. Castaldi estimated that $2.5 million would have to be raised to renovate, expand and restore the 800-seat theater and to revive its interior and exterior, notable for etched-glass egrets, an elaborately tiled drinking fountain and the facade’s signature scallop shell.

Plans call for the theater to reopen by next summer for live entertainment, plays, dance, films, concerts and other events. The Castaldis have set up a nonprofit group, the Suffolk Performing Arts Society, to book the shows and handle fund-raising with their help.

The group will also have to raise about $1 million for its operations, and its success in fund-raising will also determine the extent of renovations. Mr. Castaldi said that a fund-raising campaign, which would include naming rights, would begin in September.

Mr. Castaldi, a compact man with a crushing handshake, is not put off by the current commercial distress on Main Street. Where some might see limited prospects, he sees opportunity.

His previous projects include restoration of the observation deck of the Empire State Building (which opened in 1931, two years before the theater), the Vanderbilt Museum in Centerport and the Suffolk County Courthouse in Riverhead.

“This is Long Island’s last forgotten town where you can still do a deal, and the theater is probably its most important building,” Mr. Castaldi said. “This project is going to be the spark that will change Riverhead.”

Rob Dippel, the Suffolk Performing Arts Society’s executive director who moved to Riverhead from Cedar Falls, Iowa, in March, said that plans call for staging 60 to 80 live events a year, mostly during the summer. “We will do a professional touring series, theater, musical theater, dance, pop, country, comedy – we’re going to run the gamut,” he said. “We’re going to be able to draw from the North and South Forks, and I think there is a sizable market west of Riverhead.”

He added that classic, foreign and independent films would also be shown.

Some theater professionals said they doubted that the Riverhead theater would have such drawing power when established community groups elsewhere were having trouble filling seats.

“The obstacle they face is that what they would like to do and what the surrounding area is interested in are two very different things,” said John Blenn, a professor of music business and the general manager of the Dix Hills Performing Arts Center at Five Towns College. “That area has been a basic blue-collar audience, but things like theater and original theater have never seemed to find an audience out there.”

Riverhead bought the theater for $400,000 in 1994 and spent about $1 million to repair the roof, facade and marquee. But in July 2001 voters rejected a $4 million bond issue that would have allowed the town to restore the building as a movie theater and performing arts center.

Philip J. Cardinale, the current town supervisor, led the opposition to the bond issue before his election in 2003 but inherited the problem of what to do with the building upon taking office last year.

When Mr. Castaldi turned up, Mr. Cardinale said, he seemed highly qualified to carry out the project with private money. “We were very pleasantly surprised by his appearance,” Mr. Cardinale said. “If he can’t do it, nobody can.”

Mr. Cardinale said the theater fit the town’s plans for downtown redevelopment. Last month, the town formally asked for proposals from developers for a major redevelopment project along the Peconic River downtown. The project is envisioned as a small-town version of the Inner Harbor in Baltimore, the River Walk in San Antonio or the popular WaterFire in Providence, R.I., a periodic event in which wood fires are lighted in caldrons along three rivers.

“We’re not asking for them to do a master plan,” Mr. Cardinale said. “We have the master plan, and we have the zoning. We want them to tell us how they would revitalize and recreate.”

Artspace Projects, a nonprofit real estate developer in Minneapolis that specializes in creating working and living spaces for artists in downtown areas, recently visited Riverhead and was interested in playing a role in its revitalization, Mr. Cardinale said.

Peter Sieve, the manager of consulting and new projects for Artspace, said he found Riverhead “extremely charming in the best sense of the word.”

“We left with the strong impression that all the ingredients were there for an affordable artist live-work project,” he said. “We’re optimistic we will be able to help Riverhead move forward and realize its vision.”

The Town Board is also discussing a downtown historic district that would include the theater and the 1881 Vail-Leavitt Music Hall on Peconic Avenue.

The town had been close to selling the single-screen Suffolk Theater to a buyer with plans to carve it into a multiplex. Mr. Castaldi strongly disagreed with that proposal.

“To save the building, it has to be a theater,” he said. He would leave the stage intact and with a single screen, but would expand the backstage area by 5,000 square feet, adding dressing rooms, lighting and sound equipment and a loading dock. He said he would also enlarge the lobby and add lighting, seats and more restrooms. And he would apply for a liquor license.

As word of the proposed renovation spread, people with memories of the theater visited during a recent open house. Some took old seats the Castaldis were giving away.

Larry Penny, 69, who grew up in Mattituck, said he and friends used to hitchhike to see movies at the Suffolk Theater during the heyday of downtown Riverhead in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s.

“It was a classy theater and the place to go for first-run movies,” said Mr. Penny, now the director of natural resources and environmental protection for the Town of East Hampton. “In those days Riverhead was where it was at. For us it was like going to the Big Apple. There were two newspapers, and it was a place of culture and entertainment and all that kind of stuff.”

The downtown declined during the 1970’s and in more recent years has suffered as retailers like the Tanger factory outlet center, Wal-Mart, the Home Depot, Best Buy, Target and Pier 1 Imports opened on Route 58, once a downtown bypass.

Downtown, meanwhile, lost Swezey’s department store, but it gained the Atlantis Aquarium, which draw visitors to East Main Street not far from the theater.

New development, including an office building facing the river, is already planned. Suffolk County is also spending $35 million to renovate the court buildings on Griffing Avenue, which runs north from Main Street. A sculptor, Giancarlo Biagi, plans a studio in the space between the Barth drugstore, a Main Street mainstay, and the EastEnders Coffee House, a recent arrival.

“I’d say Riverhead is certainly on the upswing,” Mr. Dippel said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun just riding the wave of what’s going to happen here.”

Paul Noble
Paul Noble on July 17, 2005 at 9:56 am

Today’s Long Island section of the New York Times has a major article with photos, interior and exterior, of the Suffolk Theater. Story deals with the theater as the linchpin of a downtown rebirth of Riverhead.

uncleal923
uncleal923 on July 15, 2005 at 5:22 pm

I would also like to get in touch with Castle Restoration and Construction about another theater I am interested in restoring (the Loew’s Kings of Brooklyn). Does anyone know their url or E-Mail?

uncleal923
uncleal923 on July 15, 2005 at 5:20 pm

I tried to get in touch with the Friends of the Suffolk, and I have not heard from them in months. Would someone from the organization please try to contact me here.

flynnstott
flynnstott on July 1, 2005 at 10:29 am

SOUTHAMPTON, NY, JUNE 9, 2005 — Flynn + Stott Architects, P.C. of Southampton, New York, announced today that they have been retained by Castle Restoration and Construction of Long Island City to finalize plans for the interior alterations of Suffolk Theater and to design a 4,000 square foot addition.Robert Castaldi, president of Castle Restoration and Construction, purchased the Suffolk Theater in January of this year from the Town of Riverhead. Although the building most recently operated as a movie theater, Mr. Castaldi plans to focus on traditional performing arts such as jazz shows, and musical and comedy productions, and keep only one screen for viewing films. The one story addition planned for the back of the structure will house critical support space such as make-up and dressing rooms, costume storage and a workshop for constructing sets.

Richard F. Stott, AIA, owner and president of Flynn+Stott Architects, is enthusiastic about the project. “With Castle’s extensive experience rehabilitating historic properties, it is a pleasure working with Mr. Castaldi and his staff. In addition to making this space state-of-the-art and functional, we are all committed to preserving the integrity of the original art deco style that is the hallmark of this beautiful old building,” said Mr. Stott.The theater is expected to be completed and open to the public in spring 2006, but plans are already in the works for a new addition, adding three more stories to accomodate corporate, private and community functions. Renovations to the existing space include construction of a 30-foot stage, installation of new seating and a sound system, replacing plumbing, electrical, heating and air-conditioning systems, and the conversion of the balcony seating area to private dining boxes where guests can enjoy dinner with the show.

Flynn + Stott Architects P.C. is a full service architecture firm located on Main Street in Southampton with residential and commercial projects throughout the East End of Long Island. Further information is available from the firm’s web site, www.flynnstott.com, or please call 631.283.1777. The Suffolk Theater can be reached at 631-208-0003