“For the past 14 years the Montauk Playhouse Community Center Foundation has been run out of my house,” Maureen Rutkowski said as measurements were being taken last Thursday for a rug in the new foundation office adjacent to a cavernous section of the immense Tudor-style building that once housed two glass-roofed tennis courts and a gallery that could accommodate more than 6,000 spectators.
The Tennis Auditorium was to have been the centerpiece of Carl Fisher’s resort, but the Great Depression ate his dreams.
“The Auditorium opened to the public with great fanfare on August 29, 1929, with a boxing exhibition between Rene De Vos, a heavyweight from Belgium, and Babe McCorgary,” a brief history that can be found on the Montauk Playhouse Community Center’s website says. “Jim Corbett, the former heavyweight champion, was brought in to talk about his careers as a boxer and as an actor, and it was even expected that Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney would make the facility their training headquarters. . . .”
The great open indoor area, where in past years tennis was played by Montauk Manor guests, Phineas Dickinson’s quarter horses were trained, movies were screened, and summer stock plays were put on, is one day — fairly soon, Rutkowski hopes — to be transformed into an aquatic center with a large multipurpose room overhead.
At the moment, though, it serves as storage space for town beach garbage cans and Hampton Lifeguard Association rescue equipment.
Rutkowski’s purpose in giving this writer a tour, however, was to point out to what a great extent the town-owned Playhouse — half of whose interior was restored in 2006 — has already been put to effective use, by people of all ages.
The restored section houses a well-lit and well-used high school-regulation gym, the Body Tech fitness center, a Manual and Sports Physical Therapy rehabilitation room, a senior citizens nutrition center, child and adult day care centers, and an annex of the East Hampton Town clerk’s office.
The Playhouse’s weekly schedule is full of East Hampton Town Recreation Department offerings, among them yoga classes, fitness sessions, coed volleyball, men’s basketball, Zumba workouts, soccer drills, open gym periods, and PickleBall (this last having proved to be especially popular) among them.
“It’s a beautiful space, and we’ve got all sorts of things for young and old,” said Rutkowski, who added, in reply to a question, that the foundation’s goal is to raise the remainder of what’s needed to construct the 25-yard, five-lap pool (about $2 million) “by the end of the year.”
To that end, the foundation, whose president is Lisa DeVeglio (Rutkowski is its project director), oversees a number of fund-raisers each year, one of which, a basketball game between the Harlem MagicMasters and an East Hampton faculty team, was held at East Hampton High School Friday night.
“I can’t tell you too much about the game,” Rutkowski said during a conversation Monday morning, “but I think it’s safe to say the MagicMasters won. [Town Police Capt.] Mike Sarlo made a few 3s for the faculty team, and Nick Finazzo [whose wife, Meghan, runs Manual and Sports Physical Therapy’s annex at the Playhouse] played well. We didn’t have the turnout we’ve had in other years, but it was a fun night. Montauk Youth and the East Hampton Coaches Association are sharing the net proceeds.”
Money the foundation receives from the game will go toward the purchase of four adjustable basketball backboards so that two half-court games can be played simultaneously in the Playhouse’s gym.
“We get 25 or so for coed volleyball,” she added, “and Montauk School uses the gym every weekday afternoon. Its volleyball team plays here. Otherwise, the school wouldn’t be able to play basketball and volleyball in the same season. It’s great to be able to let the school use it.”
PickleBall — a paddle and Wiffle ball game, a tennis, badminton, Ping-Pong, and racquetball hybrid that emphasizes net play — had really caught on of late, Rutkowski said.
“It may be a silly name,” an East Hampton Town Recreation Department flier prepared by its director, John Rooney, and his assistant, Alison Rigby, says, “but it’s a serious sport, fast-paced and easy to learn, great exercise and lots of fun for all ages. . . . We have all the equipment that you need. Just bring yourself.”
PickleBall is played in the Playhouse’s gym on Tuesdays from 9:30 to 11 a.m., on Wednesdays from 5:30 to 7 p.m., and on Fridays from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Summer fund-raisers include a gala, ocean distance swims (on July 26 this year), an Amateur Athletic Union basketball tournament, and four kid-friendly Family Fests.
“We’ve got $2 million in the bank,” said Rutkowski. “With $4 million, which, as I said, we hope to have in hand by the end of the year, we’ll be able to do the entire first floor [of the former tennis auditorium] — the full aquatic center, with the lap pool, a recreation pool like the one at the Y, and the men’s and women’s locker rooms — and the infrastructure for the second floor.”
“That’s what we’re hoping for,” she said, in parting.