The Suffolk Theater on Main Street in downtown Riverhead has reopened its doors after 26 years! Originally built by the architect R. Thomas Short in Art Deco style, it opened in 1933 during the Great Depression and flourished until 1987 when the rise of the multiplex cinemas forced it to close its doors, but not for good. In 1994, the Town of Riverhead purchased it and then in 2005, Dianne and Bob Castaldi, whose firm Castle Restoration and Construction, Inc. specializing in historical renovations, purchased the theater with an eye to both restoring it to its grand glory and reinventing it into a new state-of-the-art performing arts center. After several years of stalling while the project was in litigation between the Town and theater owners, in September, 2011, the restoration project was once again on course. And on March 2, 2013, the Suffolk Theater held its grand gala opening party!
Architecturally, Bob Castaldi has taken meticulous detail in preserving the very bones and artistic flourishes of the theater keeping the original elements as much as possible while transforming it into an even greater venue than just a movie theater. By removing the 800 seats and making several radiant heat tiers in the theater, but still preserving the upstairs balcony, the theater has evolved into more of a cabaret-style, supper club, giving it more flexibility to host many diverse events from dance, theater, and music, to Big Band stands, opera, and circuses. There is a larger stage with the addition resembling the original stage. There is a new dance floor, and a second tier with tables and chairs enough to seat 350-400 people, with two large bars, one in the main theater and one in the balcony, a state-of-the-art sound system and a full kitchen hosted by Chef Tom Schaudel.
Great effort was made to restore the many original facets of the theater. The impressive entrance features the mural and ticket booth from 1933. The original tiled water fountain is located inside the theater in all its beautiful detail. Genuine wall sconces were cleaned, restored, wired, and brought up to code. The original woodwork has been restored and repainted. Fleur de lis and metal supports are authentic with the new ones replicating the old. The original hardware is on the doors and handles. The new carpet and wall fabric pick up the floral leaf patterns and flower-like crests from the stained-glass chandeliers. Artistic ceiling reliefs depicting antelopes surrounded by gold and black floral designs come alive. The phone booth displays its unique sign and door. The Art Deco motif is even revealed in the tile, sinks, mirrors, and etched glass windowpanes of the Ladies’ and Men’s rooms.
Bob Spiotto, the Executive Director of The Suffolk Theater, brings his 22 years of experience as a director, producer, actor, choreographer and teacher at Hofstra University to the creative direction of the Suffolk Theater. He is involved in all aspects of the theater, from programming upcoming events, to booking artists and even occasionally performing, as in his “Tribute to Danny Kaye.” He is also the visionary behind the scenes, working on new ideas such as a potential “Deco Gallery” on the second level of the theater, featuring Suffolk County Artists and renting out a special VIP bridal suite, already reserved for June.
On April 23, 2013, The Suffolk Theater and its owners will receive the Landmark Restoration Award, part of the Long Island Business News’ Real Estate and Development Award, a fitting achievement for such a grand and fabulous project. As it says on the marquee, “By preserving the past we have created the future.”