Suffolk’s silver screens
BY LIZ FINNEGAN
SUFFOLK COUNTY—The art of cinema has been around for more than a century and continues to beguile and stir the imaginations of viewers. A new exhibit at the Suffolk County Historical Society in Riverhead, “The Silver Screens of Suffolk,” reconnects visitors to some of the classical films of various genres through a vast collection of movie posters. In addition, local theaters – some long gone – are highlighted as well.
Brothers Robert and Frank Socci have been collecting movie posters since the 1960s. A good portion of their collection is featured in this show. “We were always movie fans,” noted Robert, who is from East Meadow. Frank, a resident of West Babylon, said he caught the movie bug in his youth as an usher at Westbury Theater. In fact, Frank said the old movie house that had once been used for vaudeville helped jump-start his collection when he found some silent screen posters in an abandoned trunk in an old dressing room behind the stage.
“We find [movie posters] all over,” he added, noting that flea markets and garage sales are havens for good finds. “And we’re still collecting,” Frank said.
Images of the Sayville Movie Theatre and Sayville Opera House are on display. The Sayville Opera House had been located on the east side of Candee Avenue, adjacent to the old Suffolk County News building to the south. It was a multi-purpose building that served the community in many ways.
At the turn of the last century, Sayville Hose Company as well as prominent thespians raised funds to build a theater that could also function as a storage center for fire equipment. The opera house was completed in 1901. Many new and well-known performers debuted acts there on the stage while a portion of the building held the fire department’s hoses and carts. The venue was also used for the community at graduation and for talent shows.
In the 1920s and ’30s, part of the building was used as a gymnasium for the school district. In 1948, the building was refitted into a bowling alley and was used that way until fire destroyed the structure in 1961. A parking lot behind several Main Street stores is now located where the Sayville Opera House once stood.
The original Sayville Theatre, earlier known as the Novelty Theater, was torn down in 1951 to make way next door for the current theater building on Railroad Avenue. The photos in the exhibit show the 1918 building in 1944 after it was renovated in 1935. Inside, a sloping floor provided stadium-style seating for 438 patrons.
The many posters, ephemera and artifacts included in this exhibit range from all film eras.
The show runs through Feb. 28, 2019. SCHS is located at 300 West Main Street in Riverhead. Museum hours are Wednesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. For more information, call 631-727-2881 or go on the website, www.suffolkcountyhistoricalsociety.org.
LEFT: The Sayville Opera House opened in 1901 and had many different uses over the years until it was destroyed by fire in 1961.
RIGHT: Sayville Theatre in 1944. The current theatre is located just to the south of where this one was located.
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