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Photos: Diane Tucci
The restoration of Suffolk Theater took five years, and the 1933 Art Deco facility is back to its former glory and beyond. All the classic features so fondly remembered have been restored, including the lighting fixtures, wall fabrics, architectural detailing and even the water fountain. The owners are breathing new life into the theater and a new vibrant energy not seen at this address for more than three decades.
In addition to restoring all front of the house appointments, the functional aspects of the building have been remodeled to meet the needs of a contemporary audience. Expanded restroom facilities compliment a new and innovative convertible seating that allows the theater to operate in customary theater style, or entertain patrons in cabaret seating with food and beverage services.
Installation of new HVAC system offering radiant floor heating offers comfort in temperature, air quality and a quiet environment for each show. State of the art sound and lighting systems have been carefully integrated into the detailing to provide for a broad range of live performing arts programming.
Most importantly, a new life for Suffolk Theater will mean a new life for downtown Riverhead. The spirit and excitement of this project will preserve the look and feel of the last century and provide the East End once again with the finest, most versatile entertainment space on Long Island and assure that the Suffolk Theater is once again recognized as an entertainment icon.
It's a mix of old and new on the inside...
The bright color and detail work that audiences saw when the theater first opened has been brought back to life: wall trim in silver, gold and black, fresh paint on the ceiling as well as the original stained-glass fixtures that have been rehung and lit up again.
Despite the original details, the theater will look different. A new bar will run the length of the back wall, and instead of one long stretch of seats sloping down to the screen, seating will be terraced, allowing accommodations for more than 700, or for setting up tables and chairs for more than 300.
The stage is being expanded for live shows and meetings, and there will be catering facilities. The original bathrooms have been upgraded -- in the women's restroom, a dozen more toilets will join the original two.
It?s been interesting work. As the old electrical systems were pulled out and new mechanical equipment installed, Castaldi -- whose firm, Castle Restoration and Construction Inc. in Long Island City, specializes in historic renovations and redid the observation deck on the Empire State Building -- found himself looking back in time.
He discovered a series of tunnels and pipes that brought cold Peconic River water to a series of heat exchangers, creating cold air that was pumped through the building in the summer.
"The ground was 52 degrees. They were using a geothermal system." Castaldi said.
As he ripped apart the old walls and closets, he found messages and dates, names and marks with their meaning long lost. And then there was the mystery button. It was on the wall, near the exit, and no one knew its purpose. Then, at an open house just before the heavy demolition started, a woman whose mother had worked there said the button set off a buzzer in the projection booth. The usher would push it when the crowd finished buying candy -- a signal to start the movie. Sharing stories In September, a new high-tech marquee was installed, and its LED lights have become a community bulletin board, telling residents when to vote on the school budget, congratulating the high school girls' basketball team for a stellar season and informing the community about upcoming events. Lately, owner Dianne Castaldi has used it to ask people to share stories about their experiences at the theater. She's gotten a few responses and is hoping to receive more. One couple got engaged in the theater, she said. "A woman told me about her first kiss."
And, she added, several people had fond memories of the upper balcony -- stories she will not be including in the theater's official memory book.
Art Deco was an innovative design style popular in the 1920s and 1930s. Its sleek, streamlined forms conveyed elegance and sophistication. It was the age of the Flapper, the Jazz and the Machine Age. Influences were Pharaonic Egypt, the Orient, tribal Africa, Cubism, Futurism, machines and graphic design. All of these influences can be found in the details and architecture of The Suffolk Theater. The chandeliers and sconces have been restored and are exquisite.