Riverhead Theatre

11 E. Main Street,
Riverhead, NY 11901

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Jeff M.
Jeff M. on March 20, 2016 at 8:50 pm

Back in the mid 1990’s the late Brother Andrew Corsini who was editor for the Theatre Historical Society wrote to me asking if I had ever heard of a Capitol Theatre in Riverhead, NY. I then began researching it (not an easy task in those days before Google) and, with the help of Wally Broege of the Riverhead Historical Society, discovered quite a bit of interesting information related to the theatre. Articles in the Suffolk Life weekly newspaper chronicled the construction and opening of this lavish little theatre in vivid detail.
Apparently a severe winter delayed some of the construction and it was written that the entire house was built and furnished by local contractors for the exception of the marquee and the special seating located in the orchestra section down front. The pipe organ was a 2 manual 4 rank Robert Morton. The grand opening was delayed a day or so due to a popular fraternal organization having ceremonies scheduled for the original opening date. In the beginning the feature films were supposedly changed on a daily basis and organ concerts were held on Sundays and proved to be very popular. Around the advent of sound the house was sold to Prudential who, in turn, modernized the auditorium by removing the organ and orchestra pit, adding more seating and the necessary sound equipment.
The Robert Morton organ was sold to Lester Little. His mother built a large studio for him on Paradise Point where the organ was installed and eventually enlarged to include more ranks of pipes and 2 more manuals. However, the work was poorly done. The studio also had a recording booth and ample audience seating. He was a member of the Long Island Organ and Piano Society and his studio was frequently used for club get-togethers. As I have been told many well known organists of the day visited and played the organ. Lester enjoyed playing hymns while his lady friend Althea Seavers sang the verses. I confirmed this with Althea many years ago when she was living in upstate New York. When Lester passed away the organ was broken up for parts and the studio and adjoining property is now privately owned.
The theatre’s marquee was added onto more than once until it became a huge over sized monstrosity. It was eventually removed when it was in danger of coming down. The Capitol/Riverhead theatre was torn down in the early 1960’s and the lot where I believe it stood on E. Main Street is still vacant and is next to the Long Island Science Center. The street numbers in that section of E. Main St are very confusing and, in my opinion, make no sense.

robboehm
robboehm on May 12, 2015 at 1:33 pm

Also, re the Riverhead photo, presumably the theater wasn’t air conditioned since they were only going to reopen in October and were referring people to the Suffolk which, and I can vouch for it, was and the nearby Drive In.

robboehm
robboehm on March 30, 2015 at 7:20 am

Upload photo of vintage postcard when it was the Capitol. Mentioned as a link in one of the comments but these links are tenuous. You’ll note that the Capitol had a vertical but no signboard; as Riverhead, the reverse. They also added the Riverhead name to the façade.

robboehm
robboehm on March 26, 2015 at 5:48 pm

Added a photo around the time of closure.

robboehm
robboehm on July 8, 2014 at 12:23 am

Riley’s Capitol in Riverhead was sold in April, 1925. This was less than a year after they lost their Capitol in Babylon as a result of bankruptcy. The theatre was sold for a reported $100,000 but one of the Riley brothers purchased $20,000 stock in the new company which redecorated the premises and renamed it the Riverhead.

rivest266
rivest266 on October 9, 2013 at 1:58 pm

The grand opening ad from the County Review of November 19th, 1920 has been uploaded in the photo section for this theatre.

robboehm
robboehm on February 25, 2013 at 5:49 am

She wasn’t the only traffic director on LI. There was an elderly man in a baseball uniform on Rt 25A in Wading River.

chelydra
chelydra on February 24, 2013 at 10:08 pm

For what it’s worth, I bought a nice house a few years ago in Riverhead from the last of the local Rileys — it had been in the family since it was built in the 1920s. I can get in touch with the seller if anyone has any questions. She took all the remaining memorabilia (and her own memories) with her when she moved to another state, and she’d probably be delighted to share info and anecdotes. My own memories of the Riverhead Theater were that it had fallen on hard times by the late 1950s, and seemed to show mostly second-run double-features, B-movie westerns etc.. I think I may have gone there just once, probably in its last year or so. It was definitely located just past the bank, maybe right next door, around where the science place is now. The only colorful reminiscence I can offer is that a very cheerful madwoman used to dress up every day in a dark blue policewoman’s uniform, with a nice little hat, and stand on the corner outside the bank pretending to direct traffic, smiling and waving. She was always there, rain or shine, day after day, year and year, at least until 1960 or so. She wasn’t directly connected with the Rileys or their theater so far as I know, but she was a distinctive part of its environment.

moviegoer
moviegoer on October 12, 2011 at 6:24 pm

Here’s a working link to the vintage Capitol Theater Postcard

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on September 10, 2011 at 9:52 am

The address for the Suffolk Theatre would appear to be wrong. It is listed as 11 West Main Street, but the Suffolk is on East Main Street on the even side of the street. Addresses for business around the Suffolk support this. 11 West Main is actually the address for the L.I. Science Center adjacent to the parking lot where I think the Riverhead Theatre stood. The street numbering is a bit strange in that it seems to skip a lot of numbers between lots, but works to support that assumption because the second store immediately to the right of the parking lot, Luisa’s Magic Scissors, has an address of 51 West Main Street.

I believe this is the correct site for two other reasons: The bend in the road just to the right side of the site is very similar to the one in the vintage photo posted earlier by Warren and the building to the left, visible in the American Classic Images pic from 1967, looks like it could be the same structure that currently houses the L.I. Science Center (except that there was siding on part of it in ‘67). It appears that the theater was set back a bit further than the adjacent building and that there was some sort of recessed entrance to that building behind the corner column – which has since been glassed in by the Science Center and extended a bit into the parking lot for an entrance vestibule. Just seems to make sense to my eye. The bend in the road is really what nails it for me. Of course, can’t be 100% sure, but I think the probability is very high.

As for the Suffolk Theatre, I think an address correction is in order.

robboehm
robboehm on September 9, 2011 at 6:33 pm

But my point is that two sides of the street can’t be odd numbered. The Suffolk and Riverhead have odd number addresses on CT. If a more reasonable address could be established we might have a better chance at a better Google image. I thought the Riverhead was closer to Roanoke Avenue. Then the location would be the open space next to the bank.

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on September 9, 2011 at 6:54 am

I believe the location of this theater was where the parking lot is for the L.I. Science Center. In the current street view, which faces east down Main Street, if you swing around to the right (south) the parking lot will come into view. This matches up with the slight angular turn in the road that is evidenced to the right of the theater in the vintage image posted by Warren on July 27, 2008. Yet another street view in need of repair.

robboehm
robboehm on September 8, 2011 at 8:11 pm

This address is problematic. The Riverhead theatre was on the opposite side of Main Street and across an intersection. The Google image is in the direction of the Suffolk theatre and is the same one appearing on the Suffolk site.

icom
icom on November 23, 2010 at 8:35 pm

I remember seeing carrie there in late 70’s

robboehm
robboehm on February 21, 2009 at 10:49 am

It’s interesting that, as a kid I remembered the Riverhead exterior from my summers in the area. Now, as an adult I was trying to track it down. The library only had information on the Capitol, which it was previously, but no knowledge of it as the Riverhead. Even the little old lady at the desk drew a blank.

sameegrl
sameegrl on July 26, 2008 at 6:42 pm

My mother remembers this theater, said it had rats. She saw The Blob there.

DDB65
DDB65 on May 13, 2007 at 9:09 am

WOW … I grew up on Eastern Long Island, my parent’s still live in Riverhead. Never knew of this other theatre. Is the Suffolk theatre still pending restoration?

chelydra
chelydra on November 9, 2004 at 6:41 am

A little more info at Suffolk Theater page (also Riverhead NY).