2013 0204 suffolk theater

Video: Excitement is in the air inside the historic Suffolk Theater, the long-dark art deco movie house on East Main Street, where crews are putting the finishing touches on a painstaking, years-long renovation and restoration in advance of a March 2 grand opening gala. Video, photos and story.

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After decades of discussion and debate, several false starts, a referendum and even litigation, the much-anticipated, long-awaited grand opening of the renovated, restored and repurposed 1933 art deco movie house on East Main Street is almost here.

And excitement is in the air inside the Suffolk Theater, where crews are scurrying to finish up in advance of the theater’s grand opening gala on Saturday, March 2 — a “back to the ’30s” cocktail party, with live music by Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks.

For owners Bob and Dianne Castaldi, of Cutchogue, the renovation and restoration of the theater has been a labor of love spanning many years.

2013 0204 castaldi bobBob Castaldi, a builder by trade, says when he and his wife saw the space, it was love at first sight. “We just knew it had to be saved,” he said.

They purchased the building from the town in February 2005 for $707,000.

But shortly thereafter, the town signed a “master developer” agreement with Apollo Real Estate Advisors. Apollo purchased the former Woolworth building in 2006 and unveiled plans to build a movie theater, apartments and a parking garage there. In early 2007, then-supervisor Phil Cardinale announced that Apollo was “in negotiations” to buy the Suffolk Theater, which Castaldi vehemently denied, the theater owner sued the town, alleging it was delaying his project in order to benefit Apollo.

The project languished until 2010, when Supervisor Sean Walter took office and urged settlement of the lawsuit. Building permits were issued and the renovation finally began in earnest.

The long-dark movie house — it closed in 1987 — has presented a host of challenges for the Castaldis and their crews. Old buildings are always full of surprises, the builder notes. But the structure was so well-built, it held up surprisingly well — despite being vacant and unheated for so many years.

The Castaldis are now nearing the end of a painstaking restoration and looking ahead to the next phase of the project: a planned expansion on the north side of the building to create a larger stage, a backstage area, and dressing rooms.

2013 0204 suffolk theater detailThe owners took great care to replicate every detail of the original decor, from paint colors to the fabric wall-hangings to the style of all furnishings and appointments.

Castaldi exudes pride as he takes visitors on a guided tour of the space, with its terraced floors to allow for flexible seating configurations — including tables of two and four — and its new bathrooms featuring 13 stalls in the ladies lounge, increased from just two — a feat about which Bob Castaldi is especially proud.

“The flexibility of the space allows for an amazing variety of theater, film and interactive events,” Suffolk Theater executive director Bob Spiotto said.

The owners and their new executive director — Spiotto was hired in August — had hoped to host the grand opening gala on New Year’s Eve, the theater’s original grand opening night in 1933 — but it was not to be.

“It was less of a decision on our part as much as what the space would allow,” Spiotto said. “There were storm-related delays and unforeseen issues, as in any building endeavor.” By waiting for the building to be complete, the theater will now be “opening in grand style,” Spiotto said.

2013 0204 suffolk theater marqueeThe March 2 gala features the music of a 2012 Grammy winner (Giordano won the coveted music award for best compilation soundtrack for the HBO’s hit series, Boardwalk Empire), dancing, cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, video entertainment and costumed characters, including cigarette girls. Guests are asked to wear period dress for this 1930s cocktail party themed event, which will include a commemorative newspaper for the night. Tickets for the event, which runs from 6 p.m. till midnight, are $125 per person. There are also $40 tickets for an after-party that starts at 9 p.m. (You can purchase tickets online at SuffolkTheater.com.)

To follow up on the grand opening, Spiotto has already planned “March Musical Madness,” which he calls “a creative explosion of something for everyone.” The line-up will include big band dances, circus events, and a variety of birthday celebrations for Hollywood icons, including Rex Harrison, Dinah Shore, Nat King Cole, Danny Kaye and Lawrence Welk.

“It’s a tip of the hat to the history of the place, the past, present and future,” Spiotto said. March will also bring Irish events in honor of St. Patrick’s Day, a “Swing into Spring” big band dance, the Long Island premiere of the staged reading of “Trifles” by Margaret Colin, as well as country-western performances, a Broadway live musical revue, and a dance club night.

He is already booking into April, May, June and beyond.

“On with the shows,” said Spiotto.

RiverheadLOCAL photos by Peter Blasl
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Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.