When the Sag Harbor United Methodist Church congregation announced in 2011 that it would sell its historic 1846 Madison Street home, and that the building would likely be converted into a private residence, a collective gasp could be heard around Sag Harbor Village. While it is often the only way historic houses of worship are architecturally preserved in an increasingly secular society, the perceived loss of an important village property to a relatively unimportant use added insult to injury for a congregation needing to find a new home amid its inability to maintain the sizeable church building.
This week, artists April Gornik and Eric Fischl announced they are buying the property, which has changed hands twice since its original sale, and has largely sat languishing for two years behind an unfinished renovation that left the historic landmark cloaked in construction debris. The evolving vision for what Ms. Gornik and Mr. Fischl will privately develop — an incubator for artistic expression, a home for innovation, a place for authenticity, a new and important spoke in the wheel of Sag Harbor cultural institutions — will not take its true form until the building is renovated. But the concept is exciting and forward thinking and would certainly be more of a community asset than a private home that would simply maintain an important building.
It comes as little surprise that this effort has sprung forth from the thoughtful minds of Ms. Gornik and Mr. Fischl, who may be known internationally for their art, but are known in Sag Harbor as individuals who are deeply committed to the village, to understanding and preserving its history and to helping people who live here. Ms. Gornik, who brings a tornado of energy to every project she is involved in, and Mr. Fischl, who generally works more quietly behind the scenes, have contributed in significant ways to preservation efforts and environmental causes and have worked tirelessly with others to ensure the vitality of important cultural institutions, the most recent being the expansion and renovation of the former Sag Harbor Cinema into the Sag Harbor Cinema Arts Center.
This new venture not only promises to bring innovation to the village, but it will finally complete the renovation of an iconic building that now will be returned to the village as a structure of significance in many more ways than one.