Another piece has fallen into place in the ongoing restoration of the historic Riviera Theatre.
Crystal-cut glass of beige and red, etched with a burnished gold R, will now decorate four doors in the theater lobby -- the result of two years of work by stained-glass artist Nicholas O'Connor.
The new doors will be dedicated and the artist honored at 8 p.m. today at the theater, 67 Webster St. New sound baffles and sound curtains also will be dedicated.
O'Connor, a resident of Denver for the past 20 years and a former Town of Tonawanda resident, said he donated his time in memory of his uncle, Neil Brick, an interior designer who had spent his retirement years as a volunteer redecorating and redesigning the Riviera. O'Connor wanted to carry on his uncle's mission.
"My uncle was very proud of his renovations and was very involved with the theater. After he died, my cousins, Bill and Barbara Tucker, showed me the theater and mentioned a story of how the stained-glass doors had been lost when a performer took the stained glass in the door panels (in the 1970s) in lieu of a payment that the theater couldn't afford. I am proud to be able to help the theater," saidO'Connor.
Barbara Tucker is the chairman and a co-founder of Friends of the Riviera, the fund-raising arm of the theater, which was formed in 1994.
"I can't believe (O'Connor's) dedication. He drove four of the panels from Colorado himself because he couldn't ship them (due to their value and fragility). Later he shipped two less-intricate panels, but now he says he wants to redo those two panels so all six will have the R," said Tucker.
Tucker said the Theater Organ Society took over the struggling theater in 1989 and began enthusiastically restoring the Mighty Wurlitzer pipe organ, but lacked expertise in fund-raising.
"They gave us 16 projects, and now they are all finished and we have a whole new set of projects. We've had gala activities, auctions, fund drives and a lot of help in grants from (Assemblyman Robin L.) Schimminger and (State Sen. George D.) Maziarz. Little by little, people have caught the restoration fever. Now we are in the middle of a $200,000 project to change over the outdated electrical system and install new air conditioning," Tucker said.
Frederick A. Utech, a retired social studies teacher, is a volunteer at the Riviera. He gives tours, runs the projection booth and sets up technical crews for live shows.
"Just walk in, and you can step back in time," Utech said. "It's a gorgeous thing. Sometimes someone will be practicing on the organ, and it is so neat to just sit back and listen to that big sound. Our organ is one of the top 100 still-functioning Mighty Wurlitzers in the world."
He noted that performers rave about the condition of the organ and say it inspires them. Yet, he said, just two years ago a performer said it was in such bad shape that "playing it jeopardized his career."
The organ was down to bare and mangled wires at one time, but now the insides have been replaced with solid-state electronics and updated wiring. There is even a computer hooked up so that people can enjoy a silent movie with organ music.
"We are not talking a recording, but compressed air actually blows through the 900 pipes, which range from a few inches in size to 14 feet long. We are very careful to preserve that sound," said Utech.
In addition to silent movies, organ concerts, tours and occasional Saturday matinees for children, the Riviera also hosts many live performances, including operas and musicals.
New theater manager James R. Kretz started Jan. 1 and plans to use his background in marketing and promotions to bring people into his theater.
"The doors are gorgeous, breathtaking," Kretz said. "The whole theater has been restored to its 1926 glory, with a historic look that is modeled after the original, from rich marble staircases and inlaid tile to the 18-foot chandelier in the auditorium."
Today's ceremony will feature Schimminger, D-Kenmore, and Maziarz, R-North Tonawanda.