The Riverhead armory sits alongside Route 58 in Riverhead in between car dealerships, shuttered and shabby.
Built by New York State in 1957 to house the National Guard, the armory closed more than a decade ago and has been all but abandoned. Riverhead’s police department stores equipment in an cavernous room in the back.
Last week, a Times Review editor and photographer toured the armory. Inside, it has the look and feel of a set for a Stephen King movie. Or maybe a movie about zombies who take up residence in an abandoned psychiatric facility and then take over a small eastern Long Island town.
It’s dark and eerie. You wouldn’t want to be trapped inside the armory, waiting all night for help to arrive.
But the tour also revealed that it’s an incredible space, built like, you know, a brick outhouse. The structure is sound and certainly has the space for both a modern police department and a secure courthouse. The current Riverhead court facility is so unsafe that judges enter the building through the prisoner holding area. Not too smart.
In 2011, New York State turned the armory — 32,000 square feet on five acres — over to Riverhead Town with the provision that it be used for a new courthouse and police headquarters. Riverhead’s town justices, Allen Smith and Lori Hulse, have asked the town to sell bonds to cover the cost of converting the armory into just such a facility. The board has not been supportive of such a move in the past.
Ken Zahler of Greenport, 69, served in the National Guard and first arrived at the armory in the fall of 1968. He explained that the huge, high room in the rear of the building — big enough to store a few dozen tanks — was used for drills.
“We had to be there early in the morning, one weekend a month, and two full weeks over the summer in Virginia,” he said. The guardsmen did not stay overnight in the building. A lucky break. “It’s a good, solid structure,” he said. “It should have a new use. It would be a shame not to use it.”
Photos by Krysten Massa