By Kathryn G. Menu
With a July 1 deadline looming to raise $6 million for the purchase of the former Sag Harbor Cinema space on Main Street, the design for a reimagined Sag Harbor Cinema Arts Center is coming into focus.
Attempting to capture the history of a beloved cultural icon in the village, architects Allen Kopelson and Randolph Croxton have created a design for the space that allows for dynamic and contemporary programming, according to Sag Harbor Partnership president Nick Gazzolo and vice president April Gornik. With flexible programming spaces, and a café, the cinema will not only cater to those devoted to art house and independent films, but if funded will also act as an educational institutional for cinephiles, young and old.
“This is about growth,” said Ms. Gornik on Monday. “The best thing that education is about is growth, expansion and giving everyone a voice in this center.”
“Our boards are really this amazing brain trust of people with different backgrounds who want to evolve this into a place for everyone in the community,” added Mr. Gazzolo.
Mr. Croxton and Mr. Kopelson serve on the cinema’s executive committee. Mr. Kopelson, a founding principal of NK Architects, has been involved in a number of community theater and performing arts projects, including the Mayo Performing Arts Center and the historic Count Basie Theater in Red Bank, New Jersey. He has been working on the cinema project since an initial group formed with the idea of a cinema center in 2008.
“My wife, Robin, volunteered me as a sacrificial lamb to lay out the possibility of a new cinema,” he joked in an interview on Wednesday. In all honesty, he added later that he and his wife were weekly patrons of the cinema for a number of years — it was one of the reasons they moved to Sag Harbor three decades ago.
“I still have my discount coupon book,” he said.
After a hiatus, Mr. Kopelson returned to the project roughly two years ago as a group led by Ms. Gornik honed in on the concept of expanding the single screen cinema into a South Fork center for film. The first task was figuring out how to maximize the space in order to make it more financially viable, but also give it the ability to host multiple programs at once. Working with Digital Media Systems owner Gregg Paliotta, a projection and sound specialist who works with director Martin Scorsese, Mr. Kopelson devised a plan to shorten the main theater in an effort to preserve the large screen, iconic to the Sag Harbor Cinema.
“That was a no-brainer,” he said. “I am a movie buff and I love cinema. What has happened is most of the larger theaters are divided up into small, long and narrow spaces, where the screens are not centered on the seats.”
What is proposed for the main 200- to 250-seat theater will be something “I think everyone will be happy with,” he said.
Shortening the theater allows for a second repertory screening room with 100 to 120 seats that will host film series, curated tributes and retrospectives. A third screening room, with 30 seats, will be located upstairs, and is meant to serve as a flexible space — offering screenings for classes and lectures, and also as a private screening room in an effort to provide a source of income for the non-profit institution.
“One of the objectives was not to lose the feeling of what is there — the Art Deco design of the theater, the feel of the space in general,” said Mr. Kopelson. “I think it was important to everyone involved that whatever we presented, it bring back some of the nostalgia of what the theater had been, although it will be more contemporary in terms of how we use it, with new equipment, new lighting and a new sound system. The screen is still there — and the projection equipment too, some of which we would not have been able to replace, but there will be new projection equipment as well.”
“In terms of the design, the main thing I wanted to be sure of was there was a connectivity to the broader concept of this becoming a cinema arts center,” said Mr. Croxton on Wednesday. “We reworked the stairway and openness to the upper level, adding bay lights, so access to the screening room and classroom on that second level received equal emphasis as the first floor.”
“There is a lot of refinement in this design,” he added.
Galleries and a café are incorporated into the design, which Ms. Gornik said this will enable the cinema to evolve into a place for children, teens and adults —becoming a place where art openings can be coupled with special events, where free film screenings are imagined for schools and community groups, and where filmmaking workshops and cinema appreciation courses can be held.
Touching the façade, or altering it in any way, was expressly forbidden.
“That will not change at all — I will guarantee it,” said Mr. Kopelson. “I do think the entry, once you are inside the cinema, will have a nice feeling.”
“It was essential we put that back as it was, and not mess around with it, but take it as a part of the collective memory we all have of Main Street,” said Mr. Croxton. “It’s a real centerpiece — a real heart of the village. That is something we did not want to replace, but at the same time we do want a transformational reuse of that property, a resourceful reuse where we are using every cubic square foot to accomplish our goals.”
SAVING A CINEMA, ONE DONATION — AND EVENT — AT A TIME
A number of organizations and businesses have joined the effort to rebuild and expand the Sag Harbor Cinema into a new arts center. In addition to pledges of financing through sagharborcinema.org, a number of events have been planned this season to support the effort as well.
On May 23, a fundraising event was hosted by neurologist Dr. Christine Namer and Michael Namer at his HGU New York Hotel. Mr. Namer is a Sag Harbor resident, the founder and CEO of Alfa Development and serves on the cinema foundation’s finance committee. The event drew over 60 people including Donna Karan and Nicole Miller as well as long time East End resident, actress Mercedes Ruehl.
May 27 – The Bacchanalian Society and the Topping Rose House will host a competitive wine tasting at the restaurant, located at 1 Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor Turnpike in Bridgehampton, from 2 to 5 p.m. with proceeds to benefit the cinema foundation.
June 16 – Ron Perelman’s Le Bilboquet in Sag Harbor will host a Sag Harbor Cinema benefit cocktail party.
June 22 – Cabaret piano player Steve Ross will celebrate the cinema with a night of movie music, with a location soon to be announced.
July 16 – The Big Tent Party to Save the Cinema: From 5 to 8 p.m. at the tent on Long Wharf, $50 for adults and $15 for children will give residents and visitors alike the chance to support the cinema project, bid on world class art, and enjoy a Taste of Sag Harbor, along with live music and activities for children. Visit sagharborpartnership.org for tickets or more information.
September 10 – The Turnpike Block Party — Sponsored by Estia’s Little Kitchen with The Sag Harbor Express as a presenting sponsor and Almond Restaurant as a supporting sponsor, the carne asado party will be held from 6 to 8:30 p.m. in support the Sag Harbor Partnership, and will feature local art for auction.
Surf and Slide, an apparel company with an eye towards social change, has also announced it has created the Sag Harbor Cinema t-shirt with 100 percent of the $30 cost of the shirt to benefit the Partnership’s efforts to rebuild the cinema. Visit surfandslideart.com for more information.