Walking through Geneseo, you may have noticed an old theater on Center Street. Known as the Riviera Theater, this run-down building was once a gem of the town.
After years of inactivity, many people in the Geneseo community are planning a potential renovation project to revive the theater as a symbol of the arts in the community.
The Riviera, originally called The Rex Theater, opened in 1914 under the management of the Aprile family. According to the Association for the Preservation of Geneseo Gazette, the theater served as a community center in its early days.
The Riviera held fundraisers for the American Red Cross and Kiwanis International. During World War II, the theater served as a location to purchase war bonds and stamps.
In its early years, the Riviera had the distinction of being one of the only theaters in the area to show films with sound. But like many local movie theaters, it began to lose profit due to larger multiplexes and the development of home video. Despite its rich history and accomplishments, The Riviera closed its doors in 1995 due to financial issues.
Many members of the community felt something should be done with the theater. In 2010, a group of Geneseo residents formed Friends of the Riviera.
The group’s statement reads, “Friends of the Riviera is a nonprofit organization whose purpose is to enrich, educate and entertain by providing a multi-use arts and cultural center to serve all members of our community.”
Over the past two years the group researched the process of restoring a theater and potential business plans that would ensure its success. In December 2011, the group held an open meeting and hosted speaker Mike Negra who was actively involved in the renovation of the State Theater in Pennsylvania.
Currently, the project is still in the planning stage. In the fall 2011 semester, a group of students in INTD 105: Reading/Writing YouTube with English professor Julia Walker took on the task of researching the theater and corresponding with Friends of the Riviera.
The end result was a mini-documentary discussing possible student involvement in the theater’s restoration. The video also emphasized relationships between the village and the students. Many people believe the Riviera could unite these separate entities.
To find out more about the Riviera Theater and Friends of the Riviera, visit www.geneseorivieratheater.com or www.rivieratheaterrestorationwiki.weebly.com. Students in Walker’s class will also present on G.R.E.A.T. Day from 4:20 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. in Welles 133.