When a fire tore through Main Street in Sag Harbor in December 2016, it tragically left the Sag Harbor Cinema a shell of what the iconic Hamptons landmark used to be, destroying the entire front of the Cinema, in addition to several adjoining buildings.
But, after months of negotiations, The Sag Harbor Partnership has announced that they have entered into a contract to purchase the Sag Harbor Cinema from its longtime owner, Gerald Mallow.
“Most people don’t know that a group met back in 2009 to see about buying and preserving the Cinema when it was advertised then for sale. We were concerned that we’d lose it to some big business, and Main Street would be irrevocably changed,” explained April Gornik, head of the group and Vice President of Sag Harbor Partnership. “We reassembled again last July, with new input and members, when Gerry [Mallow] approached us about wanting to sell the Cinema to someone who’d preserve it.”
While the fire was certainly a devastating setback, the Partnership knew the Cinema was too important to the community to give up. “We were set to be in contract by the end of December when the fire threw everything into disarray, but we didn’t lose hope,” Gornik shared. “We’ve been working with experts for eight months to ascertain how best to rebuild the Cinema, make it profitable, and serve the community, and we’re grateful that Gerry stuck with us.”
The Partnership plans to fund restoration efforts through private generous donors and will preserve the beloved cultural pillar into its former glory so it can continue the Cinema’s long tradition of excellent programming, which Mallow has upheld for the last 38 years.
The Cinema’s exterior would be rebuilt replicating renowned architect John Eberson’s original design, which simply would not be complete without the iconic “Sag Harbor” sign. Fortunately the sign was not ruined in the fire. It has been repaired and is being stored at Twin Forks Storage until it is ready to be placed in its rightful home. The Partnership’s goal is to have a temporary façade installed as soon as possible.
“The Village Board hopes to work closely with the Cinema Group in expediting this project,” explained Deputy Mayor Rob Stein.
The purchase of the Cinema would result in the launch of a new not-for-profit, the Sag Harbor Cinema Arts Center (SHCAC), which would be dedicated to year-round education, outreach, and programming.
“The effort of a group of citizens to take action and turn the loss of the iconic building and landmarked sign damaged in the fire into a community arts center for the residents and citizens of the Village is both appreciated and lauded by the Board,” shared Mayor Sandra Schroeder.
Back in 2009, film writer and curator Giulia D’Agnolo Vallan of the Venice Film Festival and producer Andrew Fierberg, a member of Film Forum’s finance committee, were among the original cinema group that began to lay the groundwork for the Cinema Arts Center. Its programs will be inspired by the art house tradition that Mallow established, supplemented by a rich selection of retrospective programs of international cinema. The Center will also support educational initiatives geared towards local students who will have the chance to learn from the area’s impressive artistic community.
“The Cinema Arts Center will provide an opportunity to draw on the talents and experiences of an ever-expanding year-round community on the East End,” shared Susan Lacy, filmmaker and creator of the American Masters series on PBS.
As for the inside of the Cinema, the group hopes to preserve the large, historic “curved scope” screen in in the main theater (approximately 250 seats); a second with 150 seats on the same floor, and a smaller 30 seat screening room that will also serve as a classroom, on the second floor. Award-winning architect Allen Kopelson of NK Architects generously created the stunning design pro bono. The Cinema would also feature a locally-owned and sourced cafe downstairs.
During the 2nd annual Big Tent party, the Partnership will celebrate Mr. Mallow as well as raise funds for the purchase and rebuilding of the Cinema. This year’s event will take place again in the big tent on Long Wharf on Sunday, July 16. The Partnership’s inaugural The Big Tent: Party For The Park last year was tremendously successful with over 800 attendees and over $130,000 in proceeds. The Partnership hopes the alluring combination of libations from local vineyards and beverage purveyors, electrifying music from the HooDoo Loungers, and activities for children will draw another large crowd.
“We expect this year’s Big Tent party for the cinema to be a blockbuster,” said Nick Gazzolo, President of the Sag Harbor Partnership. “We are fortunate to live in a community where so many people are giving of their time, talent, and money toward restoring such a cultural treasure.”
The fundraising efforts are already off to a great start thanks to an anonymous donor who pledged the first 1 million dollars. All contributions to the purchase and rebuilding of the Cinema will be tax-deductible.
“Main Street won’t feel whole until that famous sign is shining again,” added Gazzolo. “Everyone wants to see this come-back.”
For more information, or to donate, visit www.sagharborpartnership.org.