Since the demise of the late, great “Godfather of Soul” James Brown 8 years ago, his other title as “the hardest working man in show business” has laid unclaimed. I would like to nominate local developer Don Livingston of Palace Properties to receive the title.
I first noticed the perpetual motion machine that is Don last summer while manning our Little Green Market booth at the Geneseo Farmer’s Market on Center Street every Thursday afternoon. “Who is this guy who continued to work on the facade of the derelict Riveira Theatre non-stop right through our market every week?” I wondered.
As the summer slowly turned to fall it began to become clear that something very special was happening in the “Theatre District “right in front of us. When my friend Valerie Honeyford operated her clothing store next door to the Riviera for many years, we used to joke about her location as being in the Heart of the Theatre District.
Now through the efforts of Don and his partner Jim Sullivan, that joke is fast becoming a reality! Last weekend the circa 1914 movie theatre (closed since 1995) had its triumphant Grand Re-Opening as a fully restored multi-purpose venue.
Fittingly the event was highlighted by a concert by the Big Band “78 RPM.” Fitting, because about 20 years ago Don went on a blind date with Tawny Bondi, the daughter of Geneseo Big Band impresario and former Soccer All-American Ted Bondi. (For those who never had the honor of knowing my friend Ted, see my tribute column written when he passed away in 2010.)
That date eventually led to a marriage that brought Don from his native Nunda to Geneseo. I don’t know who arranged that blind date but that person should be made an Honorary Citizen of Geneseo!
In the last decade, Don, who spent his early years learning the carpentry and contracting business working along side his late father Martin has been remaking the face of Downtown. The Riviera, his latest but surely not last project, was truly a labor of love.
When I recently decided to return my printing and graphic design business to Main Street I was fortunate enough to find space in one of Don’s properties. That and the subsequent graphic work I did for the theatre gave me an excuse to pop into the Riviera work site on a regular basis for the past few months.
No matter what time of day I came, I almost always found Don hard at work on his renovation. As far as I could tell the man never stopped working! Those who attended the Grand Opening (or other recent events) have seen the glorious results of all that hard work.
Those who were there Saturday would also have seen that the theatre project is very much a family affair. At the opening, the entire extended Bondi clan pitched in to help including two of Tawny & Don’s children serving as ushers, as well as two of Jim Sullivan’s daughters working the concession stand.
In talking with Don, I have become aware that his dream is to make the Riviera Theatre the centerpiece of revitalized Downtown which can once again be an after-dark destination for more than just college-age kids. With the re-opening of the theatre he is well on his way to realizing that dream. Congratulations to Don and the whole Livingston-Bondi-Sullivan team on a job well done! Ted would be very proud!