Owners of Supreme Court district eyesore told to clean up graffiti

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | The former Courthouse Restaurant on Griffing Avenue has become a favorite target of graffiti vandals.

For decades, the Courthouse Restaurant stood at the corner of Griffing and Railroad avenues, serving a bustling crowd of locals and visitors from the state Supreme Court building less than 100 feet away.

But the once-thriving restaurant, later known as J.P. Michael’s, has become a long-standing eyesore in the town’s historic courts district.

Over the last few months, things got even worse as the boarded-up restaurant was covered in graffiti. Riverhead Town code enforcers are now trying to get the building’s owner to paint over the ugly scrawlings.

The town last month issued a notice of violation to Lyle Pike, whom town officials named as the building’s owner, requiring him to clean the graffiti, said town code investigator Richard Downs. The notice gave Mr. Pike until Jan. 15 to clean up the graffiti, but as of Jan. 24, the building was still covered in tags.

Mr. Downs said Mr. Pike told him it’s been too cold to paint over the markings, but he hoped to address the graffiti this week.

Mr. Pike did not return calls seeking comment.

Councilman James Wooten alerted town code enforcers last month about the graffiti. “This building that used to be a wonderful addition to the Railroad Avenue area has become such an eyesore,” he wrote at the time in an email to the News-Review.

The Courthouse Restaurant building dates back to 1890, according to town records, and was expanded in 1974. The Klein family, who now own C.K.’s Deli, ran the Courthouse Restaurant for decades, until it was sold and renamed J.P. Michael’s.

J.P. Michael’s closed its doors after several years of operation and the building was sold off to several owners over the next decade.

The building was most recently sold to the current owners, Ebb Tide Bay LTD and Libra VII. Mr. Pike’s connection to these entities is unclear.

As the building has fallen into disrepair, local business owners, investors and politicians have debated how to restore the area around the state courthouse to its former glory. The county began renovating the Griffing Avenue court complex — the centerpiece of which is the more than 80-year-old Supreme Court building —  in 2007 after the new courthouse behind the old buildings was completed.

That work is expected to wrap up at the end of this year.

In 2009, Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said she wanted the property to be used as part of a transit hub for a hypothetical downtown shuttle company. While that idea never came to fruition, the property was also included in the redesign of Vintage Square, a multi-million dollar development proposed by investor John Burke that would create apartments, restaurants, commercial space and a multiplex near the courthouses.

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Additional reporting by Barbaraellen Koch.