On Main Street in Sag Harbor the afternoon of the cinema fire.

The iconic Sag Harbor Cinema, whose façade was destroyed by fire in December 2016, is slated to be purchased by the Sag Harbor Partnership to become the site of a new non-profit Sag Harbor Cinema Arts Center.

The Sag Harbor Partnership, a non-profit committed to preserving the village’s history and supporting the local community, announced Tuesday afternoon that they have entered into a contract to purchase the site for $8 million from longtime owner Gerald Mallow.

The logo for the new Sag Harbor Cinema Arts Center.
The logo for the new Sag Harbor Cinema Arts Center.

“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,” said April Gornik, who served as head of the group and is Vice President of the Sag Harbor Partnership, in the partnership’s announcement. “We were concerned that we’d lose it to some big business, and Main Street would be irrevocably changed.”

“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,” she added. “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. 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 actual theater, which abuts Meadow Street, parallel behind Main Street, was not destroyed in the fire, but the front of the building, the entry foyer and the long hallway leading to the theater were destroyed and have since been demolished, along with the RJD Fine Art Gallery, which was also in the cinema building. The gallery relocated to Bridgehampton and re-opened in March.

The Sag Harbor Partnership plans to replicate the iconic art deco original façade of the cinema, designed by architect John Eberson, and re-install the famous “Sag Harbor” sign, which was carefully removed from the facade and is currently being housed at Twin Forks Storage.

The Partnership plans “to have a temporary façade installed as soon as possible,” they said in their announcement.

They added that award-winning architect Allen Kopelson of NK Architects, working pro bono, has designed the project, which includes restoration of the large, historic “curved scope” screen in the 250-seat existing theater, the addition of a second theater with 150 seats on the same floor, and a smaller 30-seat screening room, which would double as a classroom, on the second floor. A locally owned and sourced café is planned for downstairs.

The Partnership announced that 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, both of whom served on the original 2009 group that negotiated with Mr. Mallow, are responsible for the programming plans, which “are built on the art house tradition established by Mr. Mallow, to be integrated with a rich variety of retrospective programs of international cinema, as well as educational initiatives tailored to local schools and the local community, and designed to take full advantage of the wealth of artists and filmmakers here.”

The cinema site in late March, 2017.
The cinema site in late March, 2017.

“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” said Susan Lacy, filmmaker and creator of the American Masters series on PBS.

This year, the Partnership’s Big Tent party on July 16, using the tent for Bay Street Theatre’s annual gala on Long Wharf, will honor Mr. Mallow and raise funds for the purchase and rebuilding of the cinema. 

Last year’s Big Tent Party hosted over 800 guests and raised more than $130,000.

“A Taste of Sag Harbor,” libations from local vineyards and beverage purveyors, music by the HooDoo Loungers and activities for children will again be part of the festivities.

“We expect this year’s Big Tent party for the cinema to be a blockbuster,” said Sag Harbor Partnership President Nick Gazzolo. “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. Main Street won’t feel whole until that famous sign is shining again. Everyone wants to see this comeback.”

The Sag Harbor Partnership will be providing regular updates and accepting donations at sagharborpartnership.org.

Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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