The Riviera Theater commemorated its history with a presentation sponsored by the Association for the Preservation of Geneseo on Sunday April 12. Members of the Geneseo community gathered for the event, many of who recalled the theater’s heyday in the time before its 1995 closure. The first speaker at this event was retired teacher and professor of English as a second language and French Charlotte Brummett. She became an active member in efforts to restore the theater by publicizing and attracting benefactors.
“I became the self-appointed secretary because I was always scribbling away at our meetings,” she said. She discussed how she took it upon herself to gather information from both Milne Library and the Livingston Democrat & Republican archives in order to piece together the theater’s history.
She explained that Joseph Aprile first purchased the land in 1892, where he ran a cobbler business until he decided to construct the theater in 1914. He deemed the original theater “The Rex,” a name that would stick until 1935 when it was renamed “Riviera.” In 1942, the Riviera experienced a huge renovation with the addition of daylight screens, smoking rooms and refrigerated drinking systems—all at no advance in price. At that time, movie admission was 25 cents for adults and 10 cents for children.
“On top of this, the Riviera was a center for many humanitarian activities,” Brummett added. “It hosted can drives for the Red Cross, sold war bonds and held blood drives.”
As time progressed, however, the theater’s attendance began to decline. The theater showed its last picture show in 1995. The Riviera remained vacant until Friends of the Rivera formed in 2010 and began to lay the groundwork for the restoration process.
“We needed to create a website, establish bank accounts, hire an attorney—there was lots of work to be done,” Brummett said. Aprile officially sold the building to current owner Don Livingston in 2013 and FORT qualified for a $150,000 grant from the National Historic Society. This, along with fundraised money, could finally allow for work to begin bringing this town jewel back to life.
Brummer emphasized the involvement of Geneseo students in the project. “Ever since we started our website, we have had college students emailing us saying, ‘We have our shovels, we have our brooms, put us to work,’” she said. “College students have always been fascinated with the faith of the Riviera … the Riviera has always been a place for college and commu nity to come together,” Downtown Coordinator for Livingston County Development Louise Wadsworth added.
Livingston closed the event with a discussion on the physical process of transforming the theater from old to new. “There was lots of excitement when we first started and then there were some days where we thought, ‘What did we get ourselves into?’” he said. He spoke about the struggle of gutting the stage, bathrooms, seats, walls and ceilings all while still trying to preserve as much of the original structure as they could save.
Thanks to the large restoration effort, the marquee lights can now shine over Geneseo once again. Having hosted two plays and a handful of events, fundraisers and banquets already, the theater is back in action. There are also plans to begin showing movies regularly and there is already one wedding booked.
“The community response has been amazing,” Livingston said. “Thank you for that.”