Lafayette Theatre

97 Lafayette Avenue,
Suffern, NY 10901

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Lafayette Theatre auditorium

The history of the Lafayette Theatre, named for the Revolutionary War hero the Marquis de Lafayette, began when the Suffern Amusement Company hired noted theater architect Eugene DeRosa to design a location on Lafayette Avenue in downtown Suffern, New York. DaRosa’s concept was a combination of French and Italian Renaissance influences, subtlety mixed in a “Beaux Arts” style. The theater was also equipped with a custom-designed Muller organ to accompany silent films and augment live performances.

The Lafayette Theatre opened its doors in 1924 with the silent film classic “Scaramouche,” and flourished through the rest of the 1920’s with live vaudeville shows and film presentations. A renovation in 1927 added the distinctive Opera Boxes along the side walls and, shortly thereafter, the projection equipment was updated to play the new miracle called ‘Talking Pictures’. During the mid-1930’s, an air-cooling system was installed which, unfortunately, forced the removal of the organ. It was during this renovation that the chandelier was also removed.

After World War II ended, movie-going habits changed with the advent of television. To keep pace with audience expectations, the Lafayette Theatre changed, too. Equipment to handle 3-D films was installed in early 1953 and, later that year, the Lafayette Theatre was the first theater in Rockland County to install CinemaScope to show widescreen, stereophonic sound movies. The premiere engagement was the Biblical epic “The Robe” and audiences flocked to the Lafayette Theatre to see it in the new widescreen process, modestly known as “The Miracle You See Without Glasses!”

The Lafayette’s star faded during the 1950’s and 1960’s as downtown populations moved further into the suburbs and television took hold as the popular entertainment medium of the day. Luckily, the Lafayette Theatre was spared both the wrecking ball and the multiplexing boom, where large single-screen auditoriums were divided up into several small theaters to accommodate playing several films at once. As part of a minor renovation in the late 1980s, the old stage was refurbished and the New York Theatre Organ Society installed a new pipe organ, the Ben Hall Memorial Mighty Wurlitzer.

In the late-1990’s, the Lafayette’s future as a single-screen neighborhood movie palace was uncertain until Robert Benmosche, a resident of Suffern and chairman of MetLife Insurance, saw the potential of the Lafayette Theatre and purchased the building that houses the theater, making necessary and immediate repairs to the roof and exterior in order to prevent any more serious damage from occurring.

Late in 2002, the Galaxy Theatre Corporation, under the leadership of Nelson Page, took a long-term lease to operate the 1,000-seat Lafayette Theatre as a single-screen movie house, erasing any lingering fears that the unique building would be converted to small auditoriums. Page and his team began immediately to refurbish the interior of the theater, bringing back its luxurious pre-war style while investing it with modern projection equipment and concession areas. In September of 2003, a chandelier was hoisted to the ceiling of the Lafayette Theatre, the first time an ornate lighting fixture had been there since the 1930’s, and it was a final signal of the rebirth and continued good health of Suffern’s downtown treasure.

The Lafayette Theatre thrives seven days a week as a first-run movie theater. From February 2003 to December 2008, a classic film series, especially on Saturday mornings, presented over 250 classic films. Boston Culinary Group became a partner of Page in 2007, and Page departed in January 2009, but later in 2009 Page bought out Boston Culinary Group’s interest and resumed control of the theatre. New owners took over in August 2013.

Contributed by Pete Apruzzese

Recent comments (view all 914 comments)

vindanpar
vindanpar on October 19, 2020 at 1:46 pm

No discussion on all the major plans just announced for this theater?

mdvoskin
mdvoskin on October 19, 2020 at 2:15 pm

While I realize it makes no sense to open while limited to 50 people in a 1000 seat theatre, it strikes me that they are going to be spending an awful lot of money doing renovations that as a for profit venue they will never make back.

For a live theatre/concert facility, he has the same problem that Riverspace in Nyack had, the Lafayette is still too small for the “BIG” acts, and to big for the small intimate up and coming acts. For live theatre, the Lafayette is still in the Broadway NYC blackout zone, eliminating any chance of booking touring Broadway shows.

I wish them well, I like the theatre and his lobby renovations sound great. I hope they succeed.

HowardBHaas
HowardBHaas on October 19, 2020 at 2:58 pm

a quick google search does not mention renovations! so perhaps rather than “telegraphing” please link or spell out what is being referred to.

mhvbear
mhvbear on October 19, 2020 at 5:04 pm

Here is a recent article about the renovation plans.

https://rcbizjournal.com/2020/10/19/pandemic-slows-but-has-not-stopped-lafayette-theaters-efforts-to-transform-from-single-screen-venue-to-entertainment-venue/

mdvoskin
mdvoskin on October 20, 2020 at 10:42 am

The owner of the Lafayette Theatre sent out an email yesterday to everyone on their emailing list, copied below.

An Announcement from the Owner:

Lafayette Theater

In response to the recent announcement by Governor Cuomo’s office for the opening of movie theaters, I felt it was important to reach out to our community regarding the future of the Lafayette. Although Rockland County was excluded in the first round of openings, we do not anticipate opening to the public once a Rockland County restriction is lifted. This is due to a number of factors including the in place 25% and 50-person capacity limits per screen. This 50-person limit on capacity would impact our entire single screen auditorium equating to a 5% capacity limit and not a viable option for exhibiting film. I don’t agree with this “one size fits some” restriction but I’m supportive of the administration for make a leadership decision. As you all know, we decided to close our doors before any state mandates and will remain closed until we feel it is safe for our patrons and employees to come back, and not sooner. This is the primary reason why we will remain closed for the remainder of the year and possibly longer. Fortunately, we believe in the future of our community and the future of the Lafayette is bright. I’d like to share some information about our plans.

Our family has owned the theatre for almost 20 years, and we have made the long-term commitment to seeing it succeed. It was in 2013 that I took over operations of the movie theatre and made best efforts to keep our film loving audience entertained. Unfortunately, in the age of digital streaming and over expansion of the multiplex cinema space, that business model alone will no longer survive. To make matters more challenging, large renovations will be needed in the lobby, restrooms and auditorium to continue operating the movie business as-is. That investment is not considered a viable alternative. The only path we see forward is a shift in the type of entertainment we provide to draw a larger audience.

This historic expansion project will transform the 1924 single-screen theatre into a state-of-the-art, ADA-compliant small capacity venue with the ability to host primarily live music, film, comedy, theatre, dance, educational programs as well as private and charitable events. These improvements will allow the nearly 100-year-old icon to entertain audiences for years to come.

The project’s initial scope of work will modernize and expand the theatre into an additional 3,000 square feet of first and second floor retail. On the ground floor, the former Allstate insurance office will operate as a full-service café and bar area. To provide access to this area, the walls between the current lobby and foyer will be opened up. With the existing candy stand removed and the lobby area expanded, patrons will have more space to move around. Two small storage rooms will be recaptured to provide upgraded ADA compliant restrooms, tripling capacity in the women’s restroom. A new accessible ramp is envisioned behind the men’s room to assist patrons around the 3 steps into the auditorium. The second floor is connected from the rear balcony with access to additional restrooms and a bar area.

In the auditorium, from the neck up the theatre will look virtually the same. Our improvements will be focused on a new sound and lighting system, restoring the stage area, installing bars within the venue and removing a majority of the seats to provide for both general admission and seated shows. Seats in the rear balcony will be either restored or purchased new. With the installation of a mechanical roll up screen for films and the preservation of the rear balcony seating, we feel the improvements will hold true to the old majestic charm of the theatre and attract a wider audience at the same time.

While practically speaking this project is on hold until we can all stand shoulder to shoulder again, we’ll continue to finalize our plans and approvals so we can hit the ground running. This project is expected to create multiple year-round jobs for residents and attract visitors from the surrounding NY and NJ counties to our downtown. The theatre has always been an anchor to Downtown Suffern and our investment is meant to enhance that relationship for decades to come. We love being part of the fabric of downtown and remain committed to seeing the Lafayette and our community get through these difficult times.

Stay safe.

markp
markp on October 21, 2020 at 4:54 am

Oy. A roll up screen. Im not saying anything else.

PeterApruzzese
PeterApruzzese on October 21, 2020 at 11:21 am

“…removing a majority of the seats to provide for both general admission and seated shows.”

Why would you remove seats? I’m hoping something was left out of that statement, otherwise you’ve got a raked floor with no seats.

walterk
walterk on October 21, 2020 at 12:52 pm

PeterApruzzese, if they are removing the seats, they will also be leveling the floor. What I read in that email is they’re going to turn the Lafayette into a multi-use live venue. I suspect movies will no longer be the featured item.

PeterApruzzese
PeterApruzzese on October 21, 2020 at 1:16 pm

I would assume as much, but that would really change the character of the place.

mdvoskin
mdvoskin on October 21, 2020 at 2:20 pm

I assumed that “multi-use live venue” means concerts, plays, speakers. None of which would benefit from leveling the floor. I guess time will tell.

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