The start of the journey
On January 5, 1995, then Patchogue Village Justice Yannacone wrote an open letter to the elected officials of Patchogue Village and the Greater Patchogue Chamber of Commerce suggesting that the abandoned Patchogue Theatre be restored as a performing arts center.
Since the beginnings of recorded history, human beings have sought out and fostered the arts. Whether as a means of entertainment, learning, or developing their mores and social patterns, every civilization has recognized the fundamental need for public expression and enjoyment of the arts, from before the time of Sophocles in Ancient Greece to the myriad of offerings available on cable television today. It is one of the most important responsibilities of any society.
In the Rockefeller Panel Report on the Future of Theater, Dance, Music in America is the following statement:
“The performing arts are public arts. To exist they must have an audience; to be presented they need a stage. Their problems cannot be solved, their quality cannot be assured, the nation cannot be served will without community interest . . . the arts are not for the privileged few but the many. Their place is not on the periphery of society but at its center. They are not just a form of recreation but are of central importance to our well-being and happiness . . . Only in our time have we begun to recognize the arts as a community concern to be placed alongside our long-accepted responsibilities for libraries, museums, hospitals and schools.”
For more than 70 years, the Village of Patchogue has had a stage at the center of our community in the Patchogue Theatre. Through public ownership and the creation of a not-for-profit, tax-exempt, public benefit corporation, we can convert this empty building on our Main Street to a center for public enjoyment and expression of the arts, at the same time continuing the process of rebuilding our business district.
Far from serving solely as a local venue, though, the Patchogue Center for the Performing Arts has the potential to be the center of cultural activity for the 1.2 million residents of Suffolk County. With its central location in the county and accessibility via major highways, train and bus routes, the Patchogue Center for the Performing Arts would be the only such facility in Suffolk.
By the 1920s, Patchogue had established itself as the most important and prosperous village in Suffolk County. With a local elected government in place for more than three decades, a bustling business district and a major source of employment in the textile, tourist, ship building and fishing industries, it was appropriately known as “The Queen of the South Shore.”
None of this escaped the notice of Michael Glynne, one of the most prominent theatrical men in New York State. Glynne was widely known for his Astoria Theater in Queens, an active and successful center for vaudeville and other entertainment across the East River from Manhattan, and he was looking to expand in a similarly prominent area. He chose Patchogue.
With an investment of $275,000, Glynne built one of the most impressive and majestic theaters of the day on Main Street in Patchogue Village, complete with orchestra pit, a pipe organ, dressing and property rooms, and “Juliet” balcony stages above either side of the main stage. He used the finest materials available for the decor, adorning his theater with red-velour paneled walls, intricate frescos, velvet curtains, mahogany columns and a paneled ceiling. The lobby walls were covered with gold leaf, and was lit by five crystal chandeliers. On the street, a 2,000 lamp marquee brilliantly illuminated the name “Ward & Glynne’s” and the headlining act when the doors opened in 1923.
In its day, Ward & Glynne’s attracted first run feature films, Broadway productions, vaudeville and the best in burlesque. Silent films and performances by John Philip Sousa and acts such as The Rose Royal Midgets could also be enjoyed there, all for the admission price of 40 cents for adults, half price for children.
Glynne operated the theater until the Great Depression, when it was purchased by Prudential Playhouses, Inc. The days of vaudeville had come to a close, but changing updated film and sound equipment maintained the theater as a major venue for first-run films, as well as a community center for bingo, sing-alongs and other activities.
After a fire hit the theater lobby in 1958, the theater was redecorated and designed in a simple and austere manner, with much of the ornate decor simply covered up behind plywood, dry-wall and wall paper. The Patchogue Theater continued to operate solely as a movie house, and in 1982 the ground floor was divided into two theaters, adding a ceiling to extend the balcony level for a third screen. The theater continued to operate as a triplex until 1987 when, through a combination of the recession that hit Long Island at the time and the opening of a 12 screen theater nearby, the building was closed.
It has stood empty for the past eight years, but has been untouched by vandals. An investigation of the building by village officials and business leaders in October 1994 found that much of the original decor has been preserved under the dry walls, wall paper and plywood installed in the late 1950s. The building still has a full stage with dressing and property rooms. The orchestra pit is still intact, though covered, as are the stage-side Juliets and projection rooms.
The need is there
Far from focusing solely on the 13,000 people within the 2.2 square miles of the Incorporated Village of Patchogue, the Patchogue Center for the Performing Arts would fulfill a glaring regional need for a performing arts center.
Despite being one of the largest and most affluent counties in the State of New York, with a population of 1.3 million people, Suffolk County has no center for performing artists. The same can be said for neighboring Nassau County, with a population of 1.6 million. For a region that considers itself to be cosmopolitan, Long Island’s facilities for the performing arts are for the most part limited to the auditoriums of local colleges and public schools, regional play houses with seating capacities of less than 500, and municipal halls or auditoriums.
Of the venues that are available to stage dance, music and live performances, the Nassau Veterans Coliseum, the Jones Beach Stadium and the Tilles Center are all located in Nassau County, and inadequate for different reasons. Nassau Coliseum is a massive arena designed mainly to stage professional sports and large-scale concerts for major acts. Jones Beach is also a large sized venue suitable only for major performances, and as an outdoor facility is limited to use only during the spring and summer months, with Long Island’s coastal weather always a factor in scheduling performances. The Tilles Center is a small indoor stage, but is owned and on the campus of Long Island University’s C.W. Post Campus in Brookville. Academic use takes priority over public usage, and the inaccessible location of the facility makes it difficult for many Long Islanders to travel there.
However, the need is there for a public performing arts facility. Long Island has a long history of producing quality musicians, dancers, actors and other performers. Residents of the area have a strong interest in cultural performances as well. But with the absence of a local outlet for the performing arts, they travel to New York City to fulfill this need, or make do with what little is available locally. Established and emerging talent from the area are faced with a similar quandary, and are forced to leave the area to further their careers.
The Patchogue Center for the Performing Arts can end this cultural drain from Long Island. By offering not only a high profile, high quality venue, but also the most advanced equipment needed to stage professional productions, the talent in our area will finally have a place to call home, a reason to stay, and the opportunity to enrich the lives of the residents of Patchogue Village Suffolk and Nassau Counties.
5 January 1995
Victor John Yannacone, jr., Attorney
Patchogue, New York
Shortly after that letter was circulated and published, a few Patchogue business owners attempted to buy the abandoned Patchogue Theatre from TCI a TV cable company.They made an offer of $200,000 which was rejected.
As the threats to demolish the abandoned Theatre grew, Yannacone and Kevin Molloy, the editor of the Long Island Advance prepared a joint venture proposal for TCI and a not-for-profit Corporation and the Village of Patchogue to restore the Patchogue Theatre.Patchogue Theatre History; TCI presentation, 1995
TCI declined to participate in a joint bventure, but agreed to sell the Theatre to the Village for $300,000. While the Village was scrambling to raise the purchase price, three public spirited citizens, Bill Knapp, Rick Rose, and Arthur Fucillo put up the cash needed to purchase the property and then transferred it to the Village.