Bold vision to restore Greenport building back to its theater roots

04/28/2019 6:00 AM |

Before it was Goldin Furniture, the huge Queen Anne-style building at the corner of Main Street and Central Avenue in Greenport was known as the Greenport Auditorium. It was built in 1894 as a theater for arts and entertainment. 

The Greenport Auditorium was conceived and funded by Sarah Adams, a community leader and active Presbyterian Church member who advocated for women’s suffrage. 

“As the village center for arts and cultural entertainment, the auditorium accommodated up to 700 guests for popular dramas, vaudeville, musicals and bands,” according to the nonprofit Preservation Long Island.

That use continued for many decades, until the building fell into disrepair after the Great Hurricane of 1938. It sat vacant for a few years, then became a furniture store, as it is today. 

Now, a group headed by Alex Aurichio — whose brother, Andrew, owns the building and the business — hopes to buy and restore the auditorium.

Alex Aurichio is president, director and founder of Greenport Auditorium Inc., a nonprofit dedicated to preserving the landmark building. 

The group received nonprofit status last month, according to Mr. Aurichio, who said the next step is to begin a fundraising campaign for the project. 

First, he would have to purchase the structure from his brother, he said, adding that the cost of acquiring and restoring the property could range anywhere from $4 million to $10 million. 

He plans to seek advice from the group that helped fund the restoration of the Sag Harbor Cinema following the devastating 2016 fire.

Earlier this month, Preservation Long Island added the Greenport Auditorium to its list of “endangered historic places” on Long Island. 

Other groups have taken notice of the plans to restore the auditorium. 

“Greenport’s remarkably intact 1894 Queen Anne-style auditorium retains the unique ambiance of a turn-of-the-century theater,” Preservation Long Island wrote. “Operated as a home furnishings showplace since the 1940s, the building’s restoration is limited by a lack of resources and capacity to fund and organize a complex preservation project. As downtown Greenport revitalizes, the surviving historical stage and other interior features are at risk of being lost to redevelopment.”

They listed the building’s status as “at risk” because Greenport has become a popular destination and “developers and real estate speculators are actively pursuing large commercial properties like this one to redevelop.”

The stage inside the former auditorium remains in place, although it now has chairs on it, rather than actors. 

The “Greenport Auditorium” sign is also still intact atop the building. 

“I’m not doing it for the money,” Alex Aurichio said. “I’m doing it to preserve the building for the betterment of the community. It would definitely be a good thing for the community.”

He envisions presenting plays, live music and movies and holding community meetings and other events at the site. 

“The acoustics in this building are incredible,” he said. “Somebody could stand on the stage and whisper to someone in the back of the theater, and they could hear it.”

“It’s a very large building and it’s going to take a lot of collaboration to make it back into an auditorium,” said Sarah Lautz, preservation director for Preservation Long Island.

Preservation Long Island doesn’t give grants, but instead provides advisory and technical services. 

“We could point them in the direction of a funding source or expertise in this type of thing,” Ms. Lautz said. “There’s a lot of options out there and a lot of resources out there.”

The building is located within the Greenport Village Historic District, she said. Stephen Bull, the head of the Greenport Village Historic Preservation Commission, alerted Preservation Long Island to the auditorium, she said. 

Ms. Lautz thinks the site could do well as a venue for live performances and music because Greenport is close to both New York City and, via Cross Sound Ferry service, Connecticut. 

“Everybody kind of agrees that Greenport could really use a performing arts center, and that it would probably be very successful,” she said. “So, we’re hopeful.”

She described the stage as “shockingly intact.”

Greenport Village recently saw another entertainment venue reopen when the Village Cinema, which has been closed in the winter for many years , began showing classic films at no charge on Saturdays. Under a program run by the Manhattan Film Institute — and after replacement of the theater’s heating system, thanks to donors and contractors volunteering their services — films began showing in December and will continue through May 18. 

MFI co-founder Tony Spiridakis is a friend of Alex Aurichio. 

“We would love to find some way to help him have his dream come true,” Mr. Spiridakis said. “The Manhattan Film Institute is a friend of the auditorium project and really hopes that Alex is able to make his dream for that space come true.”

Photo caption: The stage at the former Greenport Auditorium, home of Goldin Furniture, is largely intact. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

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