By Kathryn G. Menu; photography by Michael Heller
A longtime symbol of the village was displayed on Long Wharf Sunday evening. The “Sag Harbor” sign, rescued from the rubble of the fire that destroyed the Sag Harbor Cinema last December, gleamed outside a tent filled with over 1,000 people with a singular mission — to rebuild and revitalize the movie theater once adorned with those letters.
The Sag Harbor Partnership’s annual Big Tent Party, which this year benefitted the non-profit’s efforts to purchased and rebuild the cinema, raised approximately $200,000 — including an estimated $165,000 from an art auction organized by partnership vice president April Gornik — according to event organizers. Last year, the partnership held its first party on Long Wharf, bringing in more than $130,000, which it gave to the Village of Sag Harbor to support the effort to develop the John Steinbeck Waterfront Park.
With the partnership backing the cinema purchase, it was an easy choice for this year’s beneficiary. The theater was severely damaged in a December 16, 2016, fire that claimed several businesses on Main Street. The partnership reached an agreement with the building’s owner, Gerald Mallow, to purchase the property for $8 million in April and launched an ambitious fundraising effort to achieve its goal.
Mr. Mallow was honored at Sunday’s party, with a framed poster of the first film he screened as the owner of the theater, “Madam Rosa,” presented to him in gratitude, said Ms. Gornik, for the 38 years he devoted to bringing independent and art house films to the South Fork. The event also featured the music of the HooDoo Loungers, an East End band that donated its services for the second year in a row, and food and drinks supplied by 24 local restaurants and three vineyards, with volunteers from the Sag Harbor Fire Department and Volunteer Ambulance Corps grilling scores of hamburgers and hot dogs for hungry guests.
VIDEO: Recapping the Big Tent Party
Ninety volunteers, including members of the Sag Harbor Whalers’ baseball team served as bartenders, servers and at check-in. The event would not have been possible without the Sag Harbor community, said Susan Mead, the treasurer of the partnership, who led the effort to organize the party along with Ms. Gornik and other members, Judi Caron, Nick Gazzolo, Susan Lacy, Hillary Mills Loomis, Diana Howard, Carol Ostrow and Jayne Young.
“The only reason this event works is because it is a combination of a party and the art auction,” said Ms. Mead. “And because of all the donations from the village residents and businesses,” added Ms. Howard.
“I think the fact that everyone truly chips in on this event shows how much support the cinema project really has,” said Ms. Mead.
Bay Street Theater also played a role — allowing the partnership to use the tent it erects for its own Saturday night gala for the annual fundraiser.
“It’s a great partnership,” said Ms. Mead. “We love working with them.”
The event, noted Ms. Young, is also geared toward being one that can truly involve the entire community, with a ticket price of $50, well below the price of admission for most summer benefits.
“It was designed so the community could come, so there is no barrier for people to bring their families, to bring their children, to bring their guests,” said Ms. Young. “We see this as being a community gathering — one that builds community, that cements us as a community.”
A major role was played by Chris Denon, of Twin Forks Moving & Storage, who moved and stored the sign the night of the fire and has aided in its restoration along with metal worker John Battle. Mr. Denon, with the help of artist Eric Fischl, arranged to bring the sign to the wharf for the party, where it quickly became a popular destination for photographers.
“This will put us just about or over the $5 million mark in our fundraising,” said Ms. Young. “We are two-thirds of the way there, and it is clear after Sunday that everyone is really behind us in this effort.”