The 350 seat Suffolk Theater is the recipient of ADSNY’s 2016 HERO Award, in recognition and appreciation for the outstanding efforts to rescue and restore this Art Deco theater.
The theatre is a unique Art Deco movie theater located on Main Street in historic downtown Riverhead, Long Island. R Thomas Short, of the New York firm, Harde and Short, was the original architect.
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 first 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.” and, “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.
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.
Following five years of research, investment, planning and negotiations, 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 ribbon cutting for The Suffolk Theater took place on March 1, 2013, as the 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.
To see more of the beautiful theater and to hear more on the restoration please view this video created by the owners of the Suffolk Theater: