L.I. Aquarium owner Joseph Petrocelli snipped a red ribbon to celebrate the opening of the Preston House restaurant and hotel last night.
Town officials and local business owners joined members of Petrocelli’s family and staff for the event, which included tours of the newly renovated 112-year-old home and and the five-story, 20-room boutique hotel Petrocelli built on its north side.
The historic home now houses a two-story restaurant and an intimate first-floor bar. Both restaurant floors access the hotel, which has its main entrance on Ostrander Avenue. The hotel entry doors open to a lobby appointed with a front desk and seating area. Like the stone exterior facade and the guest rooms on the floors above, it is sleek and modern. Original mural art — abstract paintings of Petrocelli’s daughters — adorns the public hallways of the hotel. The rooms — studios, one bedrooms and suites — feature polished stone floors, imported Italian marble and silk bed sheets.
Both the hotel and restaurant are slated for a Feb. 14 soft opening, Petrocelli said.
When Petrocelli originally purchased the property, he intended to tear the home down and use the site for parking. But once inside the home, he decided he couldn’t demolish it. Instead, he would restore and renovate it as a restaurant and build a high-end boutique hotel to complement the larger Hyatt East End his company operated directly across East Main Street.
The Preston House was built in 1905 by Henry H. Preston, Suffolk County’s first full-time sheriff and a wounded Civil War veteran.
Petrocelli, who also bought and restored the landmark East Lawn building on East Main Street, has already begun a third historic home renovation: the Howell House, located next door to the Preston House. Built in 1905 by B. Frank Howell, a three-term Riverhead Town supervisor, the home is in grave disrepair. Petrocelli, who says he loves restoring old homes, at first concluded that the Howell House could not feasibly be saved. He sought to demolish it and planned to use that site for parking. But the town Landmarks Preservation Committee denied Petrocelli’s demolition application. The developer filed an appeal and then changed his mind and is not going forward with the renovation. He purchased another home north of the Preston House and razed that instead to provide parking for the hotel and restaurant.
Landmarks chairman Richard Wines, who advocated for saving the Howell House, was on hand last night for the grand opening soirée. He said he was very pleased with the Preston House renovation and the adjoining hotel structure. The blend of the modern and historic styles works well, Wines said. The hotel’s style reminded Wines of a hotel on Manhattan’s High Line, the Standard Hotel.
Working with the town, Petrocelli has saved two important historic homes on Main Street, Wines said.
“Downtown is important to all of us,” Petrocelli told a small crowd of supporters gathered outside the Preston House for the ribbon-cutting. He thanked the Riverhead Industrial Development Agency for its financial assistance with the project and Councilwoman Jodi Giglio, town board liaison to the landmarks and historic preservation committees, for helping him get through the process.
“I’m very grateful Joe Petrocelli changed his plans to demolish this magnificent old building,” Giglio said afterward. “It adds so much history to the downtown area and it’s cherished by all.”
RiverheadLOCAL photos by Denise Civiletti