A Conversation With Allen Kopelson

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Allen Kopelson

The architect for the Sag Harbor Cinema Arts Center now under construction at 90 Main Street is Allen Kopelson, the founding principal of NK Architects in Manhattan and Morristown, New Jersey. He has had a home in North Haven for more than 30 years.  Mr. Kopelson earned his architecture degree at the University of Oklahoma and his master’s in urban and regional planning at New York University.

How is the reconstruction going?

It’s a very involved project, way beyond the scope any of us thought. We’re trying to put 20 pounds in two-pound sack. There are so many programs we’d like to incorporate. The theatre itself was a decent-sized space but it can’t house everything we’d like to house so we’re doing our best to accommodate all that.

Will the street-side wall will go up soon?

You’ll see it going up in the next two or three weeks. Remember the scrim with the image of the cinema sign that was hanging there? The scrim will be put back after we finish the wall in the front, which will be built with studs and then faced with stucco, exactly as it was prior to the fire. We’ll mount the neon sign probably in the spring … From the outside, I’d say by late spring it will look like it’s done.

You’re using original architectural plans?

They were in the building. We searched the building and found them … The drawings are about seven or eight pages. We have about 110 for the reconstruction.

What’s the overall plan?

Right now the plan calls for three theatres. There will be one large theater, which will hold 225 seats. It will have a screen that’s actually bigger than the screen that was there … The feeling of it, the breadth of it, will match what was there, even the curved back wall. Cinema 1 faces north; Cinema 2 faces south. That theatre will have 100 seats. In between the two of them, high up, will be the projection both. On the second floor, you’ll come out into an open space which will act as a gallery for exhibits and then a screening room or Cinema 3, which will hold 46 seats. It will be for people want to have their movie screened privately. We plan to have programs for small children, senior citizens and everything in between, and that will be a teaching space as well.

Where will office space be?

Good question. The back half, where the projection booth used to be, is where the office area will be. It’s very limited. What we have done and were granted by the community [is] we’re able to build a third floor. You go up and come to an open space that for the moment hasn’t been designated. It could be office, it may be classroom, a gathering space, a pre-movie, after-the-movie space, we don’t know. It’s only 1,200 square feet. From that space, you will go out to an outdoor terrace that will be the roof of Cinema 3.

Where will the café and concession stand be?

When you come in, it will be where the art gallery used to be. Jesse [Matsuoka of Sen Restaurant] is going to set up and manage the cafe and the concession stand …  Then back between the two theatres, you’ll walk down a series of five or six steps, you’ll come out through the concession area, the Billy Joel Popcorn area, because he donated the money to put his name on it and was the first to step up to the plate outside of Eric Fischl.

Will the surviving auditorium be incorporated in the new structure?

We’re spending a lot of money to upgrade it structurally. We stripped it down to the concreate block and you can see all of the steel columns have been exposed. They need attention, they need work … We’re fixing it so it will be state of the art.

What causes that familiar Sag Cinema odor?

Under the stage, there were two large oil tanks for heating, which were never used very much. In addition to that, behind that, that whole area under the stage was dirt. There was no concrete. The northwest corner of that building was the lowest point in the village and that whole area was a swamp well before it was paved and filled in. You can’t get rid of water just by filling it. There are two pumps even today that run 24/7 in there…. We’re raising the floor a foot and a half in back and we’re going to put in a slab with all the proper waterproofing and drains under it so we don’t have the smell.

What are some of the items salvaged from the old theatre?

We salvaged 77 or 78 end panels from the seat rows; they were from before the theatre was rebuilt in 1937, when it was the Glynn Theatre going back to the late 1920s. We saved some of the seats, which was part of complying with our grants that we got for historic preservation. They’ll be reconditioned and placed some place on the second floor as an objét. The auditorium will have new seats very similar to what was there, little nicer fabric and a different comfort level hopefully … Two exit signs were salvaged with an art deco motif that we’re going to use and replicate.  We salvaged two lighting fixtures which we’ll use and replicate … we’ll have nine altogether. Also we’re trying to salvage pieces of the fabric on back wall where you walked into the auditorium on the left, below the projection booth. That entire wall was covered with it.

When do you expect to finish the job?

We’re shooting to be in this building before the Film Festival [in early October] next year. We’re hoping we’ll be testing it out sometime in September. It’s going very well but I can’t attest to the funds we have to make it keep going, not only to get the construction done but equipment and furnishings and we need to hire staff. There’s a lot more expense that goes into this.

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Peter Boody is news editor of The Sag Harbor Express. Previously he was the editor of the Southampton Press for many years and also edited several other papers, including the Shelter Island Reporter and the East Hampton Press, of which he was founding editor. He was a regular correspondent for the New York Times Long Island section and wrote the novel “Thomas Jefferson, Rachel & Me.”