Riviera Theatre

31-33 Chenango Street,
Binghamton, NY 13901

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Riviera Theatre

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Opened as the Columbia Theatre on 11th October 1892 with “Fadette”. It was soon renamed Stone Opera House. The theatre was designed by architects Sanford O. Lacey and E.H. Bartoo, under the supervision of architect Isaac G. Perry. It was designed in what has been described as a Richardsonian Romanesque style. Seating is located on three levels, orchestra and horseshoe-shaped balconies.

Over the years it was used for drama, musical comedy, opera, vaudeville, burlesque and minstrel shows. Stars such as Richard Mansfield, Mrs Fiske, Sarah Bernhardt, Henry Irving, Maude Adams, Ethel and John Barrymore, Eddie Foy, George M. Cohen and Edward G. Robinson trod the boards here.

From 1930 it became a full time movie theatre known as the Riviera Theatre which continued until it closed in 1978.

The marquee was removed, but the first-floor store fronts were restored in the mid-1980’s. In 1987 there were plans put forward to convert the theatre into two 300 seat theatres within the building.

Any further information on this theatre and its current status would be appreciated.

Contributed by KenRoe

Recent comments (view all 49 comments)

generalenigma
generalenigma on May 20, 2012 at 9:54 pm

Patsy, On the “Treasures of the Tier” page which comes up when you click on the link in my post, you will see a list of articles you may click on to navigate to. Scroll down to the one entitled “Fixing a hole where the rain gets in – Major repair begins on Opera House”. To update you to today’s status, the roof was repaired in Sept 2009 which I would assume stopped further damage to the interior of the theatre. But nothing else has been done as far as I am aware. It goes on the auction block again this coming Thursday May 24th with no reserve. But, like the neighboring Strand Theatre which was sold at auction in November 2010 with so far NOTHING being done to the property or any announced plans for it by the new owners in the past 18 months, I fear the auction will not not result in a new owner really doing anything to save the property. Jim Macumber

Patsy
Patsy on May 21, 2012 at 9:08 am

General: Thanks for your informative reply. I do hope that the auction is successful with a motivated buyer! Keep us posted with the auction being May 24th.

Patsy
Patsy on May 21, 2012 at 9:16 am

I have found the photos and find them to be very upsetting. The roof should never have been allowed to deteriorate to its present condition! You can see that the former opera house was a “treasure” at one time. My thoughts will be on that auction come Thursday. Wish I were closer to Binghamton than 200 miles!

Patsy
Patsy on May 24, 2012 at 3:09 pm

Today is May 24th, auction day! Hope to read a post about it soon! Thanks to any CT member who was there!

generalenigma
generalenigma on May 25, 2012 at 7:04 am

Patsy .. Being retired now I had the opportunity to go to a public opening to see the interior of the Riviera Theatre (Stone Opera House) at 8:00 yesterday morning and attend the auction 3 hours later at 11:00. However, as this was the first time I had ever in my life attended either of these type events, I was unprepared for the harsh realities entailed. The interior of the theatre requires very careful walking about with dirt, garbage, chunks of wood and various other “crap” make walking difficult & dangerous, to say anything of the obvious structural problems you could encounter. AND a lot of it is DARK !!! You REALLY NEEDED a GOOD FLASHLIGHT to navigate around which I had not come prepared with. I was EXTREMELY FORTUNATE to meet John Darrow, a board member of PAST (The Preservation Society of the Souther Tier) who is also a architectural restoration expert. He was extremely friendly & well-prepared & I was able to accompany him & his flashlight on my time inside the building. I really cannot thank him enough. I followed him up to the second floor & got up onto the balcony with him in confidence knowing he knew what he was doing & feeling pretty safe … I would never have gone up there alone without a flashlight. He did travel up the long stairs from the balcony to go behind it & got into the projection booth. I did not follow in that trip since the stairs did not seem to have any kind of railing & were quite debris covered & I was afraid of falling … though I really would have loved to see the projection booth. The 15 minutes I spent at the open house were extremely eye-openingly painful. I found out the roof which I had THOUGHT was repaired in September was NOT completed & much of the north west corner of the theatre is still open to the elements. (John told me the “owner” who contracted the job DID NOT PAY AFTER THE FIRST HALF OF THE JOB WAS DONE … so the cntractor simply abandoned the job.) The north wall which showed some paint left & ornamentation when those pictures were taken & posted on “Treasures of the Tier” website, is now virtually completely bare & shows virtually no idea of what it looked like in the days the theatre was running. The railing & part of the structural front kneewall of the overhead balcony has broken off & is lying across the orchestra seats below. Like I said … very depressing. John said to restore the building to ant real functionality would probably take about 4 MILLION Dollars. I’m guessing that to restore it to it’s original glory as a theatre would probably be 10 MILLION assuming it to even be possible. At the auction itself, there were probably about 300 people in a room that holds 150!!! IT WAS STANDING ROOM ONLY !!! There were 32 properties on the docket for this auction & The Stone Opera House was to be the 24th offering. It took half an hour or more for the auctioneer to just explain all the rules & status of the properties & once he finally got started auctioning the first 3 properties (in what they call a “Buyer’s Choice”) his banter was so difficult to follow & the room was so noisy that I really wasn’t getting much out of the proceedings … plus I was standing & getting tired. When The Stone Opera House was offered assumably a couple of hours later, I was pretty sure I would not be able to tell who bought it & for what so I left about 11:45 & decided I’d wait until today’s news to see what happened. This morning’s paper listed how all the properties sold … amounts vs. assessed values but no mention of high bidders. The Stone Opera House sold for $68,000 (I am not sure if that includes the 5% buyers premium or not) against an assessed valuation of $60,000. The paper DID say that the new owner has revealed no plans for the building. I am hoping that with that kind of investment that their intentions are to restore the building. But I am sure it will never be the glorious theatre it once was. That’s my full report !!! Jim Macumber

Patsy
Patsy on May 25, 2012 at 9:29 am

Jim: Thanks so very much for your detailed report. I only hope that the new owner restores the building! I have walked through many theatres and a good companion is a good working flashlight and a good tour guide. Thanks again!

Admiral37
Admiral37 on June 2, 2012 at 12:08 pm

How sad to read about the total decay of a once magnificent theater. I saw many movies there as a kid growing up in the 50’s and 60’s. I’ll always remember that amazing marquee that Comerford Theaters built to connect the Riviera and Strand.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on January 31, 2013 at 6:45 am

This web page about the Stone Opera House says that it is likely that Elfred Bartoo and Sanford O. Lacey designed the Stone Opera House under the supervision of architect Isaac G. Perry.

This brief biography of Elfred Bartoo says that he worked as a draftsman on the State Capitol project with Perry in 1891, which is also the year Charles Stone announced his intention of building this theater. The biography also notes that, prior to forming his partnership with Bartoo, Sanford Lacey had been Isaac Perry’s senior draftsman.

Ranjit Sandhu, who compiled a partial list of the works of Leon H. Lempert & Son, says that Lempert acted as consulting architect on the Stone Opera House. He also credits I. G. Perry as the architect of the project, though he doesn’t cite a source for the claim. Still, it seems likely that Stone would have chosen Binghamton’s leading architect to design his theater, and also likely that Perry, as busy as he was with the State Capitol and other projects at the time, would turn the project over to his trusted draftsmen.

The web page about the Opera House I cited earlier also says that the house opened as the Columbia Theatre, but came to be called the Stone Opera House within a year. The house, then under construction, was referred to as the Columbia Theatre in an item in the July 6, 1892, issue of The Electrical Engineer.

Patsy
Patsy on January 31, 2013 at 10:00 am

What is the current restoration status with this historical theatre??

generalenigma
generalenigma on January 31, 2013 at 11:17 am

Patsy — I am afraid that absolutely nothing has happened since last May 24th. I have seen nothing further at all & still have no idea who the buyer was nor anything about their intentions. Wish I had better news. Jim Macumber

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