Curious residents pining for a peek inside the Suffolk Theater in Riverhead got the chance to step inside on Sunday and get a glimpse of the work that's been taking place to restore the Art Deco structure to its former glory.
Enthusiastic volunteers signed visitors up for tours of the East Main Street theater, and displayed plans detailing what the finished performing arts center will look like after its transformation; the Sunnyland Jazz Band played and added to the festive atmosphere outside.
From the moment they first saw the former single-screen movie theater, which had been closed since 1987, owners Bob and Dianne Castaldi were infused with a burning passion to restore a piece of history -- the building is the only existing example of an Art Deco theater on Long Island -- and purchased the theater from Riverhead Town in 2005.
With an eye for detail, the couple has worked diligently to keep and restore elements of the original theater, including movie posters that adorn the walls of the lobby, chandeliers, crane-etched windows, a mosaic water fountain, molding, and woven fabric wall coverings, all of which capture the imagination of those entering and send them back into the grace and elegance of days gone by while opening the doors to a brand-new and innovative arts center that stands to transform downtown Riverhead.
And, Castaldi said, bringing the arts to downtown Riverhead will boost the local economy; to that end, a forum was held at the theater last week discussing how arts mean business.
Looking ahead, the goal is to create both tiered and cabaret seating, with a dance floor and expanded stage. The former projection booth has been transformed into a sky box that can be used for wedding parties; two bars will exist on the theater's two floors. Bathrooms upstairs have been meticulously restored and expanded.
With construction well underway, the Castaldis hope to open the doors of the Suffolk Theater to the public on December 30 -- exactly 79 years to the day since the establishment originally opened in 1933.
The project, Castaldi said, is a challenge both he and his wife have embraced. Castaldi acknowledges that his background might not lie in theater, but the project is a labor of love that has fueled his determination to bring the theater back to its heyday and beyond.
"I'm building the finest race car on Long Island," Castaldi smiled, "even though I may not know how to drive."
To that end, Castaldi has hired Executive Director Bob Spiotto to helm programming and events at the theater. Down the line, in addition to live theater, musical performances, cabaret, country music, children's activities and film series, weddings and other events could also take place on-site, Castaldi said.
And, Spiotto added, with the music and whispers of voices long gone seeming to echo from the history-rich walls, one creative idea might include hosting the filming of a show on paranormal events at the site.
The sky's the limit, Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter said in a previous interview with Patch regarding the creation of a performing arts district in downtown Riverhead that would comprise the Vail-Leavitt Music Hall, East End Arts -- and the Suffolk Theater. "We have to think big," he said.