Lafayette Theatre

97 Lafayette Avenue,
Suffern, NY 10901

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Lafayette Theatre auditorium

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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 773 comments)

PeterApruzzese
PeterApruzzese on July 10, 2015 at 7:25 am

The print I ran of The Sand Pebbles at the Lafayette was a brand new one struck from a newly-done restoration. It was perfect with a wonderful stereo track and remains one of my favorite showings from the 10 years I spent there.

bolorkay
bolorkay on September 3, 2015 at 1:20 pm

Hi,

Any thoughts yet on the 2015 Ramapo Saturday Film Festival?

mdvoskin
mdvoskin on September 3, 2015 at 1:30 pm

Yes. To have a film festival, you need to actually run film. The Lafayette runs all video these days. That is not to say that their classic movie series is not fun, but the magic of actual film is gone.

PeterApruzzese
PeterApruzzese on November 19, 2015 at 9:40 am

“Operated by” needs to change to “JACA Entertainment” as of 11/20/2015 (also, Majestic Star – which no longer exists – hasn’t been the operator since 2013).

movieguy
movieguy on November 19, 2015 at 9:45 am

So who is “JACA ENTERTAINMENT” Town of Ramapo will NO LONGER book first run films or do Promotion for the theatre. I guess they wil program the classic Series as well as other events like BAMF film festival and Wild and scenic film fest

movieguy
movieguy on November 19, 2015 at 9:48 am

JACA Will program classic series and special events as well

RHETT52
RHETT52 on December 3, 2015 at 7:51 am

I was a loyal patron of the Big Screen Classics since it began. Unfortunately, the series now only shows either a DVD or blu ray copy and a $10 admission price.I have stopped going to the Lafayette for the Big Screen series as I can watch blu ray at home and not pay $10 for it. While I applaud the people running Lafayette for bringing the series all these years and do realize that they weren’t making much of a profit especially with all the senior passes, I cannot justify the trip, the admission price and the fact that I’m not getting a presentation befit of a total movie lover. If they are still successful, then keep it going, but with Nelson and Pete I always knew I was going to get a big screen classic experience and always did. It’s sadly, time for me to say goodbye to the Lafayette but thank them for the over 100 big screen classics I did see there. Still the best theater on the east coast!!

bolorkay
bolorkay on December 3, 2015 at 12:32 pm

Very well said, RHETT52 albeit a somewhat sad admission for me as well. The former Big Screen Classic program was at its height when Nelson and Pete were running the show, so to speak. They always brought to the table films of various interest levels and styles which reflected the involvement of two people who really enjoyed their films. I’m wondering if that’s still the case with the current management group who runs The Lafayette these days. As you said, Nelson and Pete, whether it was with the Bond films, a tribute to Ray Harryhausen, a musical or two, the weekend animation festivals or… the Horror-Thon always brought to the Lafayette their unique perspective and wonderful cinematic variety. It’s a true shame that the patrons of the Lafayette did not seem to appreciate the two showmen who were running the “Big Screen Classics” at the time and their sense of (dare I say it) “good old-fashioned fun” that they presented each weekend at the Lafayette. I guess if this were the case during the last couple of years of the “Big Screen Classics”, perhaps Nelson and Pete might have been able to turn a profit.

hotwaterbottle
hotwaterbottle on December 9, 2015 at 3:06 pm

Having been in the trenches with Nelson and Pete, I know they went out of their way to put together seasons of famous and not so famous films. We got Maltese Falcon, White Heat, Red River, Scarface, and we also got The Red Shoes, Bedford Incident, The Stranger and many others. I know Pete knocked himself out to find the best 35mm prints he could find and many Friday nights would be spent inspecting and cleaning the prints to insure the best quality show he could present. I know Pete would sweat over what exit music to play from his vast collection of soundtracks.

The last 2 seasons with Nelson & Pete were starting to show a downturn. Perhaps the seniors were aging out, maybe people just got bored with it. The line-up from the last 2 years is just a very pale shadow of it’s former glory. Instead of programming an interesting and eclectic season, they went for the obvious and common. Casablanca, 1925 Phantom, It’s A Wonderful Life are all good films but they are tired. Some selections just were all wrong. Taxi Driver?? At 11:30 in the morning with a bunch of seniors?? You just don’t do that! Wrong audience entirely! The seniors want to see what THEY saw when they were younger, not what the current owners want to see themselves.

Unless the new management can turn things around, the Lafayette may fade away forever.

PeterApruzzese
PeterApruzzese on December 15, 2015 at 6:39 am

Thanks for the kind words, guys. The 10 years running the classics at Lafayette were the most fun I ever had while working, no matter how much hassle they could be.

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