We all know by now that the gaping hole in the heart of Main Street in Sag Harbor used to be the Sag Harbor Cinema. It burned down on a dry, windy mid–December morning, cause still unknown. The only thing that saved the village from an out-of-control fire, like the one in 1817 which decimated the village, was the East End’s volunteer fire crews—if you see any of them out and about this summer, give them a hearty thanks.
We also all know about the Sag Harbor Partnership’s (SHP) efforts to purchase and rebrand the cinema as the Sag Harbor Cinema Arts Center (SHCAC). The SHP is currently in contract to purchase the cinema from longtime owner Gerald Mallow, and must raise $6 million by July 1. That’s a lot of movie tickets! The good news is SHP is more than halfway there, having raised about $3.5 million as of press time. “Although we’re optimistic, we still have a good chunk of money to raise to see this project through,” says April Gornik, local artist and Vice President of SHP, adding, “This is a project that’s 100% for the whole community, and we value every donation.” The donating got off on the right foot with a hitherto anonymous donation from another local artist, Eric Fischl. Billy Joel’s $500,000 donation bought him naming rights for the Popcorn Stand. Other naming rights for different amounts are also available—along with stylish hats and T-shirts with the Sag Harbor Cinema logo—on the Partnership’s website, where you can also donate any amount. A $3 million donation buys you the naming rights to the Main Screen.
“It’s not just about saving the Cinema,” Gornik says. “Main Street would be forever changed if a luxury brand comes in and swoops up that big piece of Main Street frontage. It’s big stakes.” Lucky for Sag Harbor, then, that local businesses are stepping up in big ways. According to Gornik, “Restaurants, businesses, and other great not-for-profits have come forward to offer events [and] ask how they can help.” Jesse Matsuoka at Sen, for instance, is hosting a Sushi & Sake for the Cinema lunchtime event on June 25 that’s open to the public. “Real estate agents have been wonderful in connecting us to interested potential donors,” she says. Even the summer crowd is stepping up: “Our bedrock is the year-round community, but the summer crowd is bringing a great upsurge of encouragement and help.”
A 10-foot high fence recently went up along the sidewalk, separating it from the empty lot where the cinema stood. Prominent on the fence is a cross-section rendering of what the SHCAC will look like once completed. If you haven’t seen the renderings yet, picture this: Plans include the preservation of the large, historic “curved scope” screen in the main theater, which will have approximately 250 seats. A second, 150-seat theater will be added on the ground floor; as will a smaller, 30-seat screening room, doubling as a classroom, on a second floor. East Hampton’s Elizabeth Dow, fabric historian and interior designer of the Obama White House, has offered to furnish all fabric for the theater’s new seating. A locally owned and sourced café will be added. The Art Deco façade will be replaced and the iconic blue and red neon “Sag Harbor” sign, which has been kept at Twin Forks Storage, will be repaired by sculptor and metalsmith John Battle, whose workshop is in Bridgehampton. Award-winning architect Allen Kopelson, of NK Architects, has designed all of this pro bono. If you’re more of a visual person, check out the plans on the Partnership’s website, where, again, you can donate to help save the cinema, and by extension, Sag Harbor’s unique place in an increasingly commercialized world.
“At the end of the year, when we close,” Gornik says, “my fantasy is that a cheer will go up here that you’ll be able to hear in Manhattan.”
For more info and to donate, visit sagharborpartnership.org