By Linda Amiel Burns
The Suffolk Theater in Riverhead, NY reopened on Saturday evening, March 2, 2013 with a 1930’s style glittering gala party hosted by it’s dedicated owners Dianne and Bob Castaldi and Executive Director, the impresario Bob Spioto. Bob had been the artistic director of community arts programs, the producer of special events for the Hofstra Cultural Center, and the executive producer for Hofstra Entertainment at Hofstra University for 22 years.
Outside the theater, antique 1930 cars parked in front and a large spot lit up the sky with bubbles emanating from the spectacular marquee, letting us know that this was an important premiere taking place. Over 600 people attended this glittering celebration with guests dressed in 30’s style attire, serenaded by the fabulous Vince Giordano and The Nighthawks on the large stage playing original arrangements of music from that era. The dance floor was rocking, the booze was flowing, and girls with trays in costume went around selling cigarettes and cigars (chocolate, of course). Even Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia made a speech regaling the progress happening in NY. After it was announced that it was the actor Tony LoBianco performing part of his new off-Broadway show coming to the city next month.
The Suffolk, designed by architect R. Thomas Short, is the last remaining Art Deco style movie palace and theater on Long Island. The theater was built as a National Recovery Act project for the Century Circuit chain. A.H. Schwartz of the Romack Construction Corporation of Brooklyn constructed the Suffolk Theater in just two and a half months.
The theater was opened on December 30, 1933. According to newspapers of the day, more than 2,000 people attended the opening night festivities and it was hailed as ‘Long Island’s prettiest and most complete playhouse’. It even had state of the art air conditioning. An opening review in the Riverhead News on January 5, 1934 states ‘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 the entrance lobby’.
At the time, it was hoped that the theater would bring economic benefits to the downtown shopping area and it did until 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 2005 the Castaldis purchased the Theater, with the vision of creating a state of the art performing arts center. It’s been a long haul for these visionary owners. The project was stalled for nearly three years by litigation between the theater owners and the Town of Riverhead. After 5 long years of planning and negotiations the theater has once again become the prettiest and most complete playhouse. The theater has been meticulously restored and transformed into a flex space, state of the art, theatrical performance venue. There are two bars, lounges, VIP suites and a full chef’s kitchen. The Castaldis have lovingly refurbished every facet of the facility to its original concept and beyond.
The motto is that "there is always something to celebrate at The Suffolk" and when you visit the website, you will see that there is "always something going on at The Suffolk." You will not know what to attend first when you see the exciting acts and creative events that have been booked and scheduled. It is worth the one-hour trip from the city and a special treat for anyone spending time in the Hamptons.