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Riverhead's Suffolk Theater back in business

The marquee of the newly refurbished Suffolk Theater

The marquee of the newly refurbished Suffolk Theater on East Main Street in Riverhead glints in the sun. (Feb. 25, 2013) Credit: Gordon M. Grant

A machine spewed bubbles off the marquee of the Suffolk Theater in downtown Riverhead Friday, as a three-piece band played ragtime tunes. A small group of people -- from elected officials to Miss Long Island -- listened to a few speeches before developer Bob Castaldi and his wife, Dianne, cut a big red ribbon with oversized gold scissors.

For the first time in a quarter-century, the big art deco movie house was back in business.

Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter declared the building to be "the final piece" in the revitalization of the downtown business district.

Castaldi began restoring the theater in 2005, but the job was interrupted for a variety of reasons. The theater has not been in operation since 1987, when its last movie was shown.

The restoration was complicated. Decorative moldings had to be re-created, old fixtures preserved while new lighting was installed, and two bars fitted in. And the work is not quite complete: The original wall coverings were silk, which can no longer be purchased, and Castaldi is now trying different blends of dyed rayon to try to re-create the original color and texture.

There have been some changes in the movie posters on display in the lobby. "Superman" is gone, but both "Dirty Dancing" -- the last movie to play there -- and "Footlight Parade," which opened the theater in 1933, are hanging on the walls.

Police closed off part of East Main Street from about 9 to 11 a.m. for the hourlong ceremony, and a red carpet was laid in front of the building. Just before the festivities began, electricians worked busily on the streetlights in front of the theater, trying to fix one last small problem. The theater's marquee is so bright at night that the streetlights had been reacting as if it were daylight, and shut off.


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