No one, except maybe a few old-time theater enthusiasts, remembers The North Fork Community Theatre’s first play at Greenport High School in 1957. Few people can even recall the next few years, when the troupe performed its plays at what is now known as Poquatuck Hall in Orient.
For most local residents it would be hard to picture the theater company anywhere but at its current home on Old Sound Avenue in Mattituck.
Now they won’t have to.
The building where The North Fork Community Theatre has performed its plays since 1961 is officially property of the group, nearly four years after it learned its lease with the church that previously owned the building would not be renewed.
“This is permanent now,” said Mary Motto Kalich, who chaired the campaign to raise the more than $500,000 necessary to purchase the building. “This is not just for me and not just for my kid. This is for many generations beyond us.”
The North Fork Theatre Company closed on the building just after 4 p.m. Tuesday at a law office in Riverhead, less than two weeks after receiving the $13,000 donation that put it beyond its fundraising goal. The group had raised more than $100,000 since May and more than $200,000 this year.
North Fork’s most recent 20-year lease with Mattituck Presbyterian Church expired this month. In 2008, the church, which had allowed the theater company to use the building essentially rent free for more than 50 years, said it no longer wanted to continue the friendly arrangement.
“They were very gracious all these years,” said Marilee Scheer, who delivered the toast at a reception at the theater Tuesday. While the idea of a group with very little fundraising experience coming up with enough cash to purchase the property was daunting, Ms. Scheer said she knew the group could do it.
“The building itself has such a magical karma that I never doubted it,” she said of the theater building, which had been owned by the church since 1830.
Raising the money necessary to purchase the building and its surrounding property was phase one of The North Fork Theatre’s fundraising goal. Now the group will begin phase two, which includes making sure they have enough cash for deferred maintenance. While the board hasn’t yet determined what the next step is, president Bob Beodeker said phase two could include replacing the seats and other improvements to the theater.
Mr. Boedeker said that for now everyone’s just pleased to be able to continue calling the theater home.
“We’re very appreciative of all the people who made this possible,” he said. “It wasn’t just a few large donors. It was lots of people making all kinds of contributions of 100 dollars, 500 dollars, 1,000 dollars.”
In all, nearly 700 different people donated money to the effort, which began just as the economy started to tank.
“The community gave repeatedly, over and over, at a time when it was most difficult to do so,” said Ms. Motto Kalich, who began performing at the theater in 1985, when she was just 13 years old. “They really love this place and they wanted to make sure it was still here.”
Immediate past president and current treasurer Mike Hipp was one of five people who attended the closing Tuesday, a larger group than banks usually see at those types of proceedings.
“This was a bigger deal for us,” he said. “Now, we’ll always have a permanent home.”