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Patchogue Village was a place to enjoy vaudeville theatre back in 1923. The vaudeville soon gave way to silent movies, and then Broadway-style productions.
Just 40 cents would get you into these live performances. Or 20 cents for children.
Welcome to Ward & Glynne’s Theater on Main Street, which once welcomed such famous names as Bette Davis, John Philip Sousa and The Marx Brothers.
That was all a century ago.
This year, Patchogue Theatre for the Performing Arts — which operates out of the same building — will be celebrating its history and legacy with a centennial anniversary party that will be running all year-long.
You’ll feel the history immediately upon entering the building at 71 E. Main St. in Patchogue, because the theatre also teamed with the Patchogue Arts Council to transform the lobby walls into an exhibit of historic posters and memorabilia, which will rotate throughout the year.
Although Ward & Glynne’s Theater opened to the public on May 23, 1923, Patchogue Theatre will be marking its anniversary with a May 20 celebration that will include a special performance by Louis Prima & The Witnesses following an invite-only pre-show reception.
For more than 50 years, singer, songwriter, bandleader and trumpeter Louis Prima Sr. was known as “The King of Swing.” Today, his son Louis Prima Jr. carries on his father’s legacy.
That’s just one example of this year’s very special programming that will honor decades of performances in downtown Patchogue. Scroll down for additional details.
How we got here
Ward & Glynne’s remained in operation until the Great Depression, when it was purchased by Prudential Playhouses, Inc., which was buying up dozens of small Long Island theaters at the time, said Steve Lucas, the treasurer of the Greater Patchogue Historical Society.
“It was no longer an independent theater,” Lucas said.
The building then served as a community center for the village and a local movie theater until a fire devastated its lobby in 1958.
“After a fire hit the Theatre Lobby in 1958, the Theatre was redecorated and designed in a simple and austere manner, with much of the ornate decor simply covered up by plywood, drywall and wallpaper,” reads the Patchogue Theatre website.
“The theater remained for years as a single-screen movie theater until the early 1980s when it was subdivided into two screens, and eventually three. The Patchogue Theatre stayed this way for only a few years, operating as a triplex until 1987 when the building was closed.”
“Multiplexes came and practically every mom-and-pop theater went out,” Lucas said. “This negated the reason for people to come downtown and see a movie.”
Nearly 10 years later, thanks to the efforts of three local businessmen in particular, Patchogue Village was able to acquire the building with grands plans of building a performing arts center led by former mayor Steve Keegan.
Those businessmen men had faith. Rick Rose, Bill Knapp and Artie Fuccillo loaned the village $535,000 for the purchase, and to start renovations. The building’s interior was eventually restored to its 1923 aesthetic and eventually held its first performance at the end of 1998.
“Between saving the theatre and then the old-time grocery general store turning into The BrickHouse Brewery, those were the start of the downtown revitalization of Patchogue in the 90s,” Lucas said.
“It’s an important piece of what Patchogue is today.”
A 2015-16 renovation project that cost $1 million saw the theater’s ceiling repaired and repainted, new flooring installed, its chandelier and surrounding artwork detailed, and new and wider seats put in, as well as many technical upgrades to the sound system and more.
Another time to celebrate
So now we know: For 100 years, the Patchogue Theatre building has been entertaining people young and old. To commemorate this centennial, the theatre is hosting several special events ranging from film premieres to a spooky overnight stay.
“We have a really fantastic lineup with so many different artists from so many different decades,” said Michele Rizzo-Berg, who took the helm and executive director in 2020.
The 1106-seat, nonprofit theatre kicked things off in January with sold-out performances of “Harry Chapin at 80: A Retrospective with The Chapin Family” and “In Conversation with The Sopranos,” featuring actors Steve Schirripa, Vincent Pastore and Michael Imperioli.
Moving forward, Rizzo-Berg said that upcoming shows for the rest of the year will encompass all the decades the theatre has seen.
For example, in April the theatre is planning a Prohibition Party at Whiskey Neat, which will serve as a 100th Anniversary fundraiser. The Broadway band from “Rock of Ages” (an 80s inspired musical) performed on March 11, an unauthorized “Sex and the City” musical (representative of the 90s) happens March 25, and a showing of the 2004 cult classic film “Napoleon Dynamite,” will also feature three main actors from the movie, live and in-person, on April 14.
But that’s not all. There’s a solo acoustic performance by Ryan Adams on April 2, and 90s phenomenon Pauly Shore will be taking the stage in October.
Also in October, the theatre will host two events called “Night at the Theatre,” one for kids and one that’s for adults-only. For the little ones, the theatre plans on hosting families to stay overnight for a fun, interactive “Night at the Museum” kind of night.
The adults, on the other night, will stay over and hear from paranormal investigators who will be exploring the theatre’s past.
Those events are still being planned, but Rizzo-Berg said space will be very limited.
While the lineup is already pretty hefty, it’s only going to get bigger, she added.
“We’re planning a lot of these events and getting them ready,” she said. “I’m excited for all of them. I haven’t seen anything like this, so I’m excited to put that in place.”