Suffolk Theater, a Neglected Long Island Gem, Relights

By Robert Viagas
09 Mar 2013

An original deco fountain

Spiotto said plans are in the works to apply for not-for-profit status, but for the time being there is no board of directors and the Suffolk is operating on a commercial basis.

Owing to the theatre's modest size there are no plans to bring in national tours of full-scale musicals, Spiotto said. The theatre will operate for the time being as a non-union house.

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Constructed as part of President Franklin Roosevelt's N.R.A. program to lift the country out of the Great Depression, the Suffolk was designed in the Art Deco style by architect R. Thomas Short and opened Dec. 30, 1933 with the film musical "Footlight Parade." It functioned for the next half century as a neighborhood cinema. The closing bill was "Dirty Dancing" in 1987. Over the next two decades the Suffolk stood empty and came close to being demolished more than once. Not considered suitable for subdividing into a multiplex, it was bought in 1994 by the Town of Riverhead which hoped to rehabilitate it. A bond issue for that purpose was defeated by voters in the mid 1990s and the theatre sat empty, except for one bright moment. The Suffolk became the subject and location for the 1998 film comedy "Changeover," about a group of ushers who party as the theatre closes and one of them prepares for a wedding.

Castaldi and his wife Diane, who operate the renovation firm Castle Restoration and Construction, headquartered in Long Island City, NY, summered in the area and decided to buy the building in 2005. Progress on restoration was slowed by a lawsuit with a larger company brought in by the town to oversee a comprehensive city-wide revitalization that did not come about. Restoration was completed in 2012, about the same time Spiotto was brought aboard to program content.

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