Suffolk Theatre marquee designated historic, digital sign and all

The Suffolk Theater marquee, which had a digital component installed about two weeks ago, was designated as an historic sign by the Riverhead Town Board on Thursday.

But not without a fight.

The theater itself, which was first opened in 1933, was designated as an official town landmark by the Town Board in 2004 and is located in the town-designated Downtown Historic District, which was created in 2006.

The town’s Landmarks Preservation Commission said its members had mixed feelings about the appropriateness of an animated, digital sign added to a historic marquee, but ultimately a majority of the committee agreed that the new component was compatible with the marquee’s historic character, said Richard Wines, chairman of the commission.

Commission members pointed out that historic photos show this portion of the marquee originally had a black background before being converted to an internally lit white marquee with black letters. The digital part of the marquee also has a black background.

“The effect of the sign is similar to what the designers of the original sign were attempting to create, and might have installed had the technology been available in 1933,” the commission members wrote, according to the minutes of their Aug. 22 meeting.

But the Town Board’s concerns were mainly about the fact that there were no restrictions proposed on what type of message could be posted on the electronic marquee.

Councilwoman Jodi Giglio — who arrived with a walker due to an injury suffered when she fell down stairs at her home earlier this week — raised the issue.

“What kind of signs can they display?” she asked. “Political signs?  ‘Buy a burger for a buck?'”

Councilman Jim Wooten agreed. “There’s nothing in place to keep him from doing anything,” he said.

He jokingly suggested that a “Phil Cardinale for Supervisor” sign could be posted there.

“I shutter,” added Supervisor Sean Walter, who is being challenged by Mr. Cardinale this fall.

Former Councilman Vic Prusinowski, who is a consultant for theater owner Bob Castaldi, assured board members that the marquee would be used appropriately.

But it will promote sponsors of theater events, for instance “Suffolk County National Bank presents Billy Joel,” was a hypothetical example given by Mr. Prusinowski, but he said the sign would not be used for retail advertising.

Ms. Giglio suggested putting a clause in the agreement barring retail advertising, but Mr. Prusinowski and some board members disagreed.

“I don’t think it’s the government’s responsibility to regulate content on signs,” Supervisor Sean Walter said.

Board members ultimately let the issue go, citing the fact that the Landmarks Commission supported the marquee, and unanimously approved the resolution designating it as a historic sign.

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