By Robert Viagas
09 Mar 2013
A long-lost New York area theatre got a second chance in the Limelight starting March 2. The Suffolk Theater, a nearly forgotten Art Deco gem from the tail-end of the golden age of American theatre construction, is now reborn as a combination playhouse/cinema/concert hall following a seven-year on-and-off renovation project. The ribbon cutting was March 1, a gala performance of 1930s music played March 2.
Located in Riverhead, Long Island, New York, on the border between the middle-class suburbs of Long Island and the mansions of the Hamptons, the 650-seat theatre will offer a year-round mixture of music, theatre, films and special events, with a special emphasis on local artists.
Finding the theatre was like "finding an intact 1933 Duesenberg [car] preserved in a barn," said Robert Castaldi, who bought the venue at 118 E. Main Street from the Town of Riverhead in 2005 for a reported $707,000. The cinema had stood empty since 1987 because it could not compete with the multiplexing trend that was causing old theatres like the Suffolk to be carved up into smaller screening rooms, or torn down altogether.
"The town at that time was depressed," Castaldi said. "There were a lot of vacant stores on the block. If the theatre had been in Huntington or Port Jefferson it would have been bought up in a second. So it was bad in one way because it went unused, but it was good in another way in that it was preserved more or less intact. All of the pieces were here."
Castaldi declined to say how much he has spent on the renovation, but said all the money has been private, except for tax breaks he has gotten from the town to help spur the project, part of a revitalization of the downtown Riverhead area.Continued...