Editorial: A piece of Greenport’s rich past may return

The Greenport Auditorium is one of those buildings that is so impressive it forces someone driving or walking by it to stop and look it over. It’s big and handsome in a bygone kind of way, and it speaks to the village’s rich past.

Built in 1894, the Queen-Anne style structure was once the village center for entertainment. It speaks to a time well before television and radio, when Greenport was a thriving deepwater fishing port. Its grand style also speaks to a time of genuine prosperity in the village, where residents of the area could enjoy a night of music, vaudeville or theater before going back to work the next day.

Some 700 people could attend a show in the auditorium. Local history tells us it was a busy venue well into the 20th century, falling into disrepair after the 1938 Great Hurricane slammed into eastern Long Island. Photographs show the damage the hurricane caused in the village as it sliced northeast across the North Fork and into southern New England.

As we say in our story in this week’s paper, the auditorium’s glory days ended with the hurricane. The building sat vacant and soon became a furniture store. That is what it is today.

Now, 81 years after the Great Hurricane, plans are afoot to restore this historic property as a public auditorium. This is a terrific proposal, and we hope it moves ahead and succeeds, even though a similar effort to purchase the building begun three years ago failed to make a serious dent in fundraising. We’d like to see if this new effort can get some real support behind it. Reviving it as a theater and meeting place would be bringing back the best of what Greenport once was.

A new entity called Greenport Auditorium Inc. has been established to preserve this landmark village building. Alex Aurichio, president and founder of the nonprofit, said fundraising will begin soon for the project. The building is owned by Mr. Aurichio’s brother, Andrew, who runs the furniture store.

Alex Aurichio’s goal is to buy the building from his brother and restore it, an undertaking for which the estimated cost could run as high as $10 million. This is a massive amount of money. On the surface, it seems like a bridge too far. But a model of how to proceed can be found in the restoration of the iconic Sag Harbor Cinema, which was destroyed by fire in 2016. It must be said, however: That project had serious South Fork money — and celebrities — behind it. 

That said, this project is well worth the effort. Preservation Long Island has included the Greenport Auditorium on its list of “endangered historic places” on Long Island. “As downtown Greenport revitalizes, the surviving historical stage and other interior features are at risk of being lost to redevelopment,” according to the organization. 

In our story, Alex Aurichio says, “I’m not doing it for the money. I’m doing it to preserve the building for the betterment of the community.” A restored auditorium could be home to plays, music, community gatherings and perhaps even movies.

We are hoping this comes about.