Live Music to Return to a Storied Theater

Joe Cocker
In the early-1970s heyday of the Capitol Theater here there were appearances by the likes of Traffic, Jefferson Airplane, Pink Floyd and Santana. The Grateful Dead logged 18 shows over an 11-month period, and Janis Joplin played her next-to-last show at the Capitol on Aug. 8, 1970, two months before she died.

But the concert that Dennis Bochichio, 60, who handled the lighting for more than 100 concerts and who continues to do maintenance work at the Capitol, most remembers featured Joe Cocker, who had people dancing in their seats till dawn. “FM radio at the time was really coming alive, and people wanted to see all those bands," he said. And because of the Capitol's steeply pitched two-level space, which offered crisp sound, “no seat was a bad seat," he added.

In recent years the Capitol has become a place for corporate get-togethers, bar mitzvahs and even a circus. But if Peter Shapiro, an owner of Brooklyn Bowl in Williamsburg, has his way, the Cap, as it is known to many fans, will recapture some of its past glory. Starting this spring Mr. Shapiro will produce about 100 performances a year in the 1,835-seat theater.

Along the post-Woodstock-era East Coast, the Capitol wasn't alone among midsize stages attracting A-list rock talent. There was Bill Graham's better known Fillmore East, in the East Village. But this Capitol, along with the Capitol Theater in Passaic, N.J., was also influential. Both Capitol Theaters played a key role in bringing big-name bands to the suburbs, a relationship that flourished because the halls were far enough away from Manhattan not to compete with clubs there.

The Capitol in Port Chester saw a brief resurgence of concerts in the early 1990s, when jam bands like Phish, Blues Traveler and Max Creek headlined. But there hasn't been a rock concert for the public here since 1997, when the Rolling Stones taped an MTV special. (That same year there were also nine Amway seminars.)

As part of a deal with the theater's owner, Marvin Ravikoff, announced this month, Mr. Shapiro will lease the space for “more than 10 years," said Mr. Ravikoff, who declined to discuss exact terms.

The Capitol, a 1926 landmark designed by the architect Thomas W. Lamb, who also designed the United Palace Theater in Upper Manhattan, will undergo a four-month, $2 million renovation. The work will include replacing carpets, repainting walls and upgrading bathrooms, as well as adding state-of-the-art light, sound and video systems, Mr. Shapiro said.

Much of the interior, which Mr. Ravikoff has restored over the years, won't be touched, including ceiling medallions, filigreed columns and a gold-colored arch over the stage.

“This is rock 'n' roll royalty," said Mr. Shapiro on a recent morning at the theater here. Above him a disco ball dangled from a domed 65-foot ceiling. “We will give her the treatment she deserves."

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