With so many historical places having disappeared on Long Island over the years, it’s always nice to report when one is still there. Such is the case with the Smithtown Theater. Now known as the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, this little theater has been entertaining locals for an astounding eighty years and counting.
Located on Main street in the heart of Smithtown, the single screen theater opened in 1932. Featuring over 500 seats and a balcony, the theater was one of the biggest attractions of the area. In the early days, the Smithtown theater featured a mixture of vaudeville shows and movies, showing some of the biggest pictures of the day, such as Casablanca and Gone With the Wind. At the time, it was one of a very few movie houses spread out across Long Island.
As the years passed, the luster began to fade, and in 1968, the aging theater was purchased by United Artists. The theater still showed first run movies for much of the 70s, but eventually became a budget cinema offering two-dollar movies. That was quite the bargain, considering you were offered the chance to experience a dying breed, a theater made back when movies didn’t resemble rows of concrete bunkers, back when people actually cared about how such places looked.
This story might have ended with the destruction of this historic building in 2001, when United Artists put it up for sale. But the locals, bless their hearts, put their collective feet down and organized a petition to save their beloved building. A “Save the Theater” petition was started and garnered some 8,000 signatures. That was enough to save the Smithtown Theater and shortly after, it was purchased by Ken and Laura Washington who extensively renovated the facility and renamed it the Smithtown Performing Arts Center. They re-opened the doors to the public and hosted some 1,500 productions within the first six years under their ownership. The Washington family still owns the theater, which also hosts a number of acting workshops, camps, and youth productions. It is estimated that over a half-million patrons have visited the theater in the last 10 years alone.
Of course, in this day and age, one can’t assume that the theater will be there forever. In 2012, the theater was again in danger of closing, and only dodged the bullet thanks to raising 25K in donations to stay afloat. One can only hope that the local populace will remain diligent and help ensure that this historic venue continues to entertain Long Islanders for years to come.
Do you have fond memories of seeing movies at the Smithtown Theater back in the 1970s? Do you remember what you saw there? We’d love to hear any and all memories you have of this historic venue in our comments section below, as we pay tribute to another historical location on Long Island that we hope doesn’t soon meet its demise.