118 E. Main Street,
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The Suffolk Theater is the last remaining movie palace designed by architect R. Thomas Short, and the last remaining large Art Deco style theatre on Long Island. The theater was built as a National Recovery Act project for the Century Theaters chain. A.H. Schwartz of the Romack Construction Corporation of Brooklyn constructed the Suffolk Theater in just two and a half months.
The 1,012-seat Suffolk Theater was opened on December 30, 1933. According to newspapers of the day, more than 2,000 people attended the opening night festivities. When the theater opened, it was hailed as ‘Long Island’s prettiest and most complete playhouse’. State of the art air conditioning attracted special raves for the ‘ever cleaning of the air’. An opening review in the Riverhead News on January 5, 1934 states ‘No matter which way one turns, there is luxury and comfort, this is exceptionally true in the reception corridor and ladies room as well as the entrance lobby’.
During World War II, the Suffolk Theater was an official issuing agent for the U.S. War Bonds. Organizers such as the Long Island Farm Bureau regularly used the theater for special meetings.
At the opening ceremonies, then Riverhead town superviser, Milton Burns expressed the hope that the theater would bring economic benefits to the downtown shopping area. It did just that, until changes in shopping habits, a shifting economy and the birth of the multiplex forced the Suffolk Theater to close in 1987. The theater was ‘For Sale’ from 1987 until 1994, when the town of Riverhead purchased the theater. The theater had been operated by the Prudential chain for most of its life, and was lastly operated by United Artists Theatres.
In 1996, cinematographer, Keith DiNeilli and producer Jeff Bassetti, filmed the movie “Changeover” in the Suffolk Theater. “Changeover” is set in 1978 and revolves around the closing of the Suffolk Theater, due to increasing popularity of the multiplex, and how it impacts upon the lives of its young employees. The theater sat idle for about 23 years. Except for the replaced carpeting, the interior of the theater is exactly as it was in 1933. The theater’s interior flourishing', include Woodland-motif murals and carvings, a mosaic water fountain, woven wall coverings and crane-etched windows are intact but tired and worn.
Restoration of the Suffolk Theater has been an ongoing project; from the creation of the reception and office space, construction of new ladies and men’s facilities, to the addition of the state of the art LED marquee, one only needed to walk down East Main Street to know that the Suffolk Theater restoration was in progress. Given the challenges facing the Suffolk Theater over the past decade, it may have seemed a miracle that it would be restored and reopened. With vision and commitment, the owners were dedicated to restoring the Suffolk Theater, and once again creating ‘the most prettiest and most complete playhouse on Long Island’.
It reopened as a cabaret/restaurant performance space on March 2, 2013. Classic films are also part of the programming.
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