Readers: In January, we told you about the auditorium and performing arts theater that later became Lake Worth City Hall.
A reader directed us to a 92-year-old retired lawyer who started the whole thing.
Richard Sorgini had moved from New England to Lake Worth just after World War II. One night around 1953, a friend called to say his girlfriend had stood him up and asked if Sorgini would like to accompany him to a play in West Palm Beach.
“On the way going home,” Sorgini said said this month, I said, ‘Gee, I wish we had a theater in Lake Worth.’”
Soon Sorgini and others were organizing at theater company, and the city offered as a venue its 6,380-square-foot, 3-story civic center at Dixie Highway between Lake and Lucerne, opened in November 1935. Its top floor was an auditorium that seated up to 350.
Use of the auditorium was free, but Sorgini ran into a problem. The holders of the rights to the play — he can’t remember its title — wanted a performance royalty of $300.
“We didn’t even have $3 in the bank account,” Sorgini said. “I think it took us a month going around the city in an attempt to get $300 royalties. Bless the women. They did more than the men did. They went around ringing doorbells and posting signs.”
On the Lake Worth Playhouse’s opening night, Sorgini said, “People came galore.” Admission was free, and “they filled up the auditorium. They filled up the steps, They even sat outside.”
That gave Sorgini an idea: pass the hat. Later, he said, “we counted the money. It amounted to an average of 4 cents a person.”
The playhouse later would move to the nearby Oakley Theater. The city had briefly considered razing the auditorium for more parking. Instead, it voted to move its City Hall offices over from 414 Lake Avenue.
Sorgini continued to practice law, in a partnership with his son, well into his 80s.
When municipalities used to have their own judges, he served as a judge ad litem. He also is a past president of the Lake Worth Kiwanis and the Lake Worth Civic Council. He founded a New England club and served on a committee that acquired property in the downtown area for parking lots. On the board of Adopt-A-Family, he helped to create a series of scholarships for battered women and others.
In 2003, the city’s annual community awards luncheon honored him with the Lifetime Achievement award.
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