Lafayette Theatre

97 Lafayette Avenue,
Suffern, NY 10901

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Lafayette Theatre auditorium

Viewing: Photo | Street View

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 843 comments)

bolorkay on April 14, 2016 at 11:13 am

Hi Pete, I was there for the Bond and Harryhausen presentations during those “Big Screen Classics” weekends… wouldn’t have missed them for the world on the Lafayette’s giant screen. I just think that some of us are hoping that the Bond and Harryhausen films (just to name two of the many film series that had been featured at the Lafayette.) should not be forgotten within the current “scheme” of things.

Sam83 on April 15, 2016 at 3:06 pm

Hello Pete,

I learned about the classic series a little late (late 2000s). I still saw a couple of James Bond films during the series. Theater was packed both times. Shows how much interest there was. If you had done a Fall or Spring season of just James Bond films, you would have had a packed theater for the entire season. LOL

PeterApruzzese on April 15, 2016 at 3:24 pm

“Packed” definitely a relative term in this case. Biggest paid crowd we had would have been maybe 125 people for Goldfinger.

Sam83 on April 16, 2016 at 8:17 pm

Only 125? Hard to believe. I recall the theater being at least 80% full for Goldfinger. I could be wrong. Maybe only 125 paying movie-goers and the rest were seniors with free passes?

Theater was also full for Raiders of the lost ark and The Shining if I remember correctly.

Some movies in the classic series had low interest – the theater was only about 40% full.

Makes me wonder if a classic series season consisted of old films with huge demand and everyone had to pay to get in, it could have been more profitable. Just my opinion.

PeterApruzzese on April 17, 2016 at 10:05 am

Senior admissions usually varied between 50-150 and if they had to pay, they wouldn’t have come. The Shining had about 150-200 people both times we ran it during the HorrorThon. Only shows that ever did more than 50% capacity on Saturday mornings were Wizard of Oz, It’s a Wonderful Life, Babes in Toyland, Miracle on 34th Street and maybe one or two others.

movieguy on April 17, 2016 at 10:38 am

Gone with the wind yesterday DCP. Looks like about 525people. Most of the downstairs filled lot of the balcony as well. Can’t say how many were free senior admissions and how many people paid.

PeterApruzzese on April 17, 2016 at 10:45 am

Good to hear – glad they got things off to a good start this year.

movieguy on April 18, 2016 at 7:05 am

The entire season will come from DCP. Looks very good just like a first run movie. Hope the attendance will be good the shows upcoming

movieguy on April 18, 2016 at 7:14 am

The wild and scenic film festival third annual wild and scenic film festival will be taking place this Wednesday April 20. Doors open at 6:30 PM. The program 7:30 PM to 10 PM. You can go to several local restaurants calling ahead of time and get takeout food and dining in at the theater starting at 6:30 PM. Tickets $18 it advavance $20 at the door

Bill Huelbig
Bill Huelbig on April 24, 2016 at 6:22 am

The Lafayette gave a perfect DCP presentation of Singin' in the Rain yesterday, and for only $3. I was especially impressed with the brightness of the image. Pete and Nelson would have been proud. Looking forward to their showing of Citizen Kane on June 4th.

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