The 350 seat Suffolk Theater is a unique Art Deco movie theater located on Main Street in historic downtown Riverhead, Long Island. The original architect was R Thomas Short, of the New York firm Harde and Short.
Mr. Short's legacy includes eleven movie theaters on Long Island. Notably, The Suffolk Theater is the last remaining movie house built by R Thomas Short and is also the last remaining large art deco theater on Long Island. The theater was built as a National Recovery Act project for the Century Theater circuit chain.
The Suffolk Theater opened on December 30, 1933. According to newspapers of the day, more than 2000 people attended the opening night festivities and it was hailed as:
"Long Island's prettiest and most complete playhouse."
"the Radio City Music Hall of Long Island."
An opening review in The Riverhead News on January 5, 1934 stated
"No matter which way one turns, there is luxury and comfort, this is exceptionally true in the reception corridor and ladies room, as well as in the entrance lobby."
During World War II, the Suffolk Theater was an official issuing agent for U.S. war bonds. Various organizations including the long Island Farm Bureau regularly used the theater for special events and meetings. The theater did, in fact, enliven the town and was its central attraction for many years.
Unfortunately, changes in shopping habits, a shifting economy and the birth of the multiplex forced The Suffolk Theater to close in 1987. The theater was for sale from 1987 until 1994 when the Town of Riverhead purchased the theater.
In 1996, cinematographer, Keith DiNielli and producer Jeff Bassetti, filmed the movie Changeover in The Suffolk Theater. Changeover is set in 1978, and revolves around the closing of The Suffolk Theater due to the increasing popularity of the multiplex, and also explored how the closing impacted the lives of its young employees.
The Suffolk Theater remained "dark" and sat idle for eighteen years.
In 2005, Dianne and Bob Castaldi purchased The Suffolk Theater with the vision of creating a unique, state of the art performing arts center. Many repairs and updates were required, however much of the interior beauty of the theater remained intact. It truly became a labor of love for the Castaldi's as the project was fraught with obstacles and was ultimately stalled for nearly three years due to litigation between the owners and the previous administration of the Town of Riverhead.
The Suffolk Theater restoration project took a major, public step forward on September 2, 2011 with the lighting of the theater's newly renovated state-of-the-art LED marquee - a colorful, electronically animated marquee that wowed a crowd of hundreds who gathered to celebrate the re-lighting on East Main Street in historic downtown Riverhead.
The marquee-lighting ceremony was part of "A Night Out in Riverhead" - one of a number of events taking place in downtown Riverhead. They included a reception for a new art exhibit at the East End Arts gallery on East Main Street, a free concert by the Sunnyland Jazz Band presented by Riverhead Townscape on the arts council's grounds along the riverfront, and special deals at downtown restaurants. The evening was coordinated by East End Arts. "The Riverhead Project", one of several new restaurants that opened downtown in the past year, supplied a champagne toast to the theater and its owners.
Following five years of research, investment, planning and negotiations, thankfully, The Suffolk Theater has once again become Long Island's prettiest and most complete playhouse. The theater has been meticulously restored and transformed into a flexible use performance space and special event facility, complete with a state of the art lighting and projection system.
As a flexible space, the setting currently boasts a cabaret style/dinner theater environment along with the ability to also offer a section of more traditional theater style seating, if necessary. There are two Art Deco bars, designer restrooms, a VIP suite and a full chef's kitchen.
The owners have lovingly refurbished and restored practically every facet of this historic facility and have re-imagined the space for a whole new generation. Consequently, they have been recognized and awarded for their work and commitment to this project. The historic Suffolk Theater is now also available for special events, weddings, corporate functions, and benefits. There is also ample parking.
"This one project has the ability to almost single-handedly transform Main Street into a vibrant downtown ...To have it open and add a thousand people a day to Main Street, or 2,000 on the weekend ... this provides the critical mass we need for everything to survive."
- Supervisor Sean Walter
The ribbon cutting for The Suffolk Theater took place on March 1, 2013, as period newsboys shouted "Extra, extra, read all about it! The Suffolk Theater re-opens!" The theater officially re-opened to the public on March 2, 2013.
It was a truly historic and magical evening as Main Street was lit up with Hollywood style searchlights, as an eager audience of more than 500 people, dressed in 1930's attire, arrived in period cars and walked the red carpet! Upon entering the theater they were greeted by ushers and cigarette girls, were offered a brief welcome by former New York City Mayor, Fiorello H. LaGuardia (portrayed by actor Tony Lo Bianco), and thrilled to the music of the period, provided by Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks.
History was made again that night as people danced the night away and joined in the rousing cheer: there's always something to celebrate at the Suffolk Theater!