The Arts

Town appoints interim board of directors Vail-Leavitt Music Hall

The more than 140-year-old Vail-Leavitt Music Hall in Riverhead will soon be led by a new board of directors. 

All five former members of the Council of the Vail-Leavitt — president William Miller, treasurer Kira Atkins and council members Faye Lourenso, Robert Barta and Bruce MacDonald — resigned from their positions Oct. 6. 

The Council of the Vail-Leavitt turned over complete ownership of the 19th-century performance venue to the Riverhead Town Board — which officially accepted the council’s resignation at a Nov. 9 meeting. 

With five vacant seats to be filled, the town is now responsible to appoint its own personnel to these positions. At the meeting earlier this month, the board appointed Riverhead Town Supervisor Yvette Aguiar and Town Board members Tim Hubbard, Ken Rothwell, Bob Kern and Frank Beyrodt to the interim Vail-Leavitt board of directors. 

The interim board will hold another meeting within the next two weeks to elect permanent board members, according to the town’s resolution. 

“The Council must now be repopulated so as to continue the operation of the Vail-Leavitt Music Hall on an immediate basis and take actions to commence and ensure restoration of this historical and integral part of the fabric and character of Downtown Riverhead,” the resolution said. 

The board noted those interested in joining the new Vail-Leavitt Council may apply by submitting a letter and resume to the town clerk. 

The Vail-Leavitt Music Hall was founded in 1881 — making it the oldest theater in downstate New York, according to its website — and has hosted countless theatrical, musical and cultural presentations over the past century and a half. The building is also listed on both the national and state Registers of Historic Places. 

This dispute between the Vail-Leavitt Council and Riverhead Town has been ongoing for nearly 30 years. Mr. Miller previously told the Riverhead News-Review the decision to surrender control of the theater came after the town filed a lawsuit against the council. 

Harold Smith, a past theater council president, and then-Riverhead Town supervisor Joseph Janoski signed an agreement March 18, 1982, to allow the nonprofit Council to purchase the theater using $40,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds, according to a previous Riverhead News-Review report. 

The agreement specified that the music hall must be used as a theater for public assembly in a condition that “maintains the historic integrity” of the building and offers “cultural and educational opportunities” to residents. 

The deed contained a reverter clause, which would grant Riverhead Town permission to reclaim ownership the music hall “if this provision is not kept by the council, or any succeeding group which might receive the structure should the council go out of existence,” the report said.

On May 17, town officials adopted a resolution to exercise this reverter clause and authorize legal action against the group to repossess the property due to concerns about the theater’s upkeep. 

Mr. Miller hand delivered a package to the Riverhead Town attorney on Oct. 6, which included a letter stating the Council would not proceed with any legal action to fight the lawsuit.

This package also included keys to the theater and a certificate confirming its status as a nonprofit organization. 

“After some discussions, the consensus was that the matter was beyond financial reach of the Vail and that relinquishment of the Council itself to the town was inevitable,” Mr. Miller wrote in his letter to the Riverhead Town Board.