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Court House razed in Riverhead — the restaurant, that is

Court House restaurant

After years of sitting vacant, the blighted former Court House restaurant in Riverhead was demolished Monday by owner Lyle Pike.

The nearly 125-year-old structure located at the corner of Railroad and Griffing avenues had been shuttered for more than 15 years. In recent years, Riverhead Town officials and Mr. Pike, a Southampton resident, had debated the building’s future.

In January, the Riverhead Town Board determined the structure was a safety hazard. They ordered the building be demolished, despite Mr. Pike’s claim that it was structurally sound.

Mr. Pike is now in contract to sell the property to developer Richard Israel.

Mr. Israel, who owns Richmond Realty in Riverhead, confirmed Tuesday he’s in contract to purchase the property and that Mr. Pike agreed to demolish the former restaurant before the sale took place.

“We came to an agreement with the owner that he wanted to tear it down because he felt he could do it more economically,” Mr. Israel said.

In recent years, Mr. Israel has been purchasing properties along Railroad Avenue. His company owns the former doctor’s office next to the Court House property, as well as the former Ninow’s Music site, the Railroad Café building and the house behind Mae’s Market on Cedar Street.

“We don’t know what we’re going to build yet, but it’s a part of town that needs rehabilitation,” Mr. Israel said.

This isn’t the first time a developer has attempted to revitalized the area.

In 2004, John Burke proposed building apartments, a multiplex and a parking garage there. The project, dubbed Vintage Square, ultimately never came to fruition.

Mr. Israel said he believes it may be harder for his company to purchase additional land around Railroad Avenue now that his plans for the area have been discussed publicly. However, he described the competition as being good for Riverhead.

“As we saw on Main Street, that area came alive because of competition,” Mr. Israel said. “There’s a couple housing projects going up, which brought the restaurants. It’s all part of the community.”

Mr. Israel said efforts to revive Railroad Avenue began around 20 years ago, when the town condemned and then demolished properties to create the area’s current parking lot.

Since then, a new court building has been built, the old courts have been renovated and a new Cornell Cooperative Extension building has been constructed.

“It’s coming about painfully slow, but Riverhead is on the upswing and that’s what’s important,” Mr. Israel said. “If it helps rejuvenate the area, we’re happy to be a part of it.”

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Photo: Demolition work at the former Court House restaurant in Riverhead Tuesday. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)