As grand movie palaces continue to close across the country, the Riviera Theatre in North Tonawanda has endured to celebrate its 89th birthday.
It was opened on Dec. 30, 1926 as the Twin Cities Rivera in a gala event of such scale that even famous movie producer Cecil B. DeMille sent a note of congratulations.
Advance tickets were $1 and attendees were treated to the silent Norma Shearer film "Upstage," plus "The Mona Lisa" short comedy and a newsreel. On the Mighty Wurlitzer, organist Fred Meyer accompanied the films and soloed. Vaudeville and musical acts also performed.
Billed as the "Showplace of the Tonawandas," the theater was built by the Yellen family. Leon H. Lempart and Son drew the architectural plans, which were patterned after the Italian Renaissance. The interior artwork was painted at the Rochester Studio of Willard M. Lusk, by Ferdinand Kebely.
It is now owned and operated by the Riviera Theatre and Organ Preservation Society as a not-for-profit organization and showcases movies, special events, concerts and theater. In the past year, it has featured such diverse entertainment as "Ghost Hunters Live," the now-annual "A Christmas Story" event and concerts by Smashing Pumpkins, Kenny G and Jim Brickman.
Future events include "Satisfaction - The International Rolling Stones Show" on Jan. 9, the eighth annual "Big Lebowski" day on Jan. 16 and "The Musical Box Presents the Black Show" on Jan. 30.
The Riviera continues to make improvements to solidify its future including restoration of its marquee and converting to digital projection. The theater was recently awarded $1.2 million from the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council and a $50,000 grant from Niagara River Greenway toward its “Set the Stage” $6.1 million expansion project which includes a 23,000-square-foot addition with a smaller performance space, new dressing rooms and rehearsal space.