Suffolk Theater, a Neglected Long Island Gem, Relights

By Robert Viagas
09 Mar 2013

The theatre's marquee in Riverhead, Long Island, NY.
The theatre's marquee in Riverhead, Long Island, NY.

A long-dormant Long Island movie house reopened March 2 after refurbishment. The Suffolk Theater, built in 1933, will be home to plays, films, concerts, parties and special events. Playbill inquired.

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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.



Guiding the theatre's second life is Bob Spiotto, who spent 22 years as director of Hofstra Entertainment, which booked a variety of live shows and concerts into the performing spaces at Hofstra University, also on Long Island. As a writer, director and performer himself, Spiotto plans to use his connections to artists on Long Island and New York City to keep the Suffolk lit.

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.

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