Village Considers Cinema, Steinbeck’s Studio as Historic Landmarks

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At its next meeting, the Sag Harbor Historic Preservation and Architectural Review Board will consider asking for historic landmark status for the Sag Harbor Cinema and at least one structure on the Bluff Point Lane parcel where John Steinbeck lived. The ARB will decide at their August 25 meeting whether to ask the village’s board of trustees to move forward with designation.

The board is also considering doing a complete historic survey of the village in order to ensure historic buildings are not lost or altered while the village continues to develop.

On Thursday, August 14 the board began the discussion at the request of Chairman Cee Scott Brown, who asked Sag Harbor Village Attorney Anthony Tohill to look into the mechanics of initiating historic landmark designations after learning the Sag Harbor Cinema was for sale.

Three weeks ago, Sag Harbor Cinema owner Gerald Mallow confirmed the iconic cinema was for sale and last week the property was listed in one classified advertisement as being on the block for $12 million. In 2004, village residents rallied, and successfully fundraised, to restore in-kind the cinema sign – seen by many as a landmark of the village – after word spread the sign would be removed and replaced.

In addition to seeing the historic importance of the façade of the cinema, Brown noted he also considered John Steinbeck’s writing studio on the Bluff Point Lane parcel once occupied by Steinbeck and his wife Elaine, as an important historic structure in the village. The writing studio, unlike the cinema, is not in the historic district and therefore more vulnerable to alteration should the property be sold or redeveloped.

The ARB is charged with looking into landmark designations, something Sag Harbor Mayor Greg Ferraris has encouraged them to do, said Brown. According to Sag Harbor Village Attorney Anthony Tohill, the ARB must pass a resolution requesting a specific structure be designated as a historic landmark. The board of trustees must then inform the owner of the property and hold a public hearing before they can adopt any designation.

Without ARB approval, persons are prohibited from altering any façade of a historic building, or any building in the historic district for that matter, and must also seek board approval for any construction, reconstruction, demolition, or to move the structure.

While the Sag Harbor Cinema façade is protected in that it is already in the historic district, Brown said he thought it would be a great move on the part of the board to move towards protecting important landmarks like the cinema.

Board member Robert Tortora, while supportive of the concept, wondered in the case of the cinema, which is in a historic district, what additional protection designating the building a landmark would afford.

Tohill explained a property in the historic district functionally has the same protections as a landmark building, but with a landmark building there is greater legal protection. 

“It is the image, it is the thing of Sag Harbor,” said Brown of the cinema and its sign.

As a real estate agent, what sends shivers up Brown’s spine is when he hears people discussing when the Steinbeck property will go on the market.

“It would be a major gaffe for that property to change,” he said.

In addition to Steinbeck’s writer’s studio, which Brown said above all else should be preserved, the property contains three other structures, all of which Brown said should be considered for designation. Brown said it was his “worst nightmare” that one day the studio would be moved from its original location, and placed somewhere like Windmill Beach with a plaque on it.

Travels With Charlie was written there,” he said.

Tortora wondered if the board, instead of singling out the Steinbeck property, should consider doing a complete inventory of all historic structures in Sag Harbor. Board member Diane Schiavoni said she thought the inventory was a good idea.

Brown said he would look into whether the Sag Harbor Historical Society would be interested in the project, and wondered if grant assistance might even be available to embark on the ambitious plan. Brown estimated it would take roughly six months to complete the project, which he said should be drafted by an independent source rather than by members of the ARB.

While the board agreed it would continue a discussion about an all-encompassing inventory, in the interim Tohill was asked to draft a resolution to designate the Steinbeck buildings and the Sag Harbor Cinema as landmark structures.

In other ARB news, a fence was approved for John Evans’ 68 Bay Street property, a porch and garage addition was approved at Karl and Patricia Kaiser’s Jermain Avenue residence, as was the roof at Ann Castaldo’s Jefferson Street home. Elizabeth Kramer and Robert Reid were given permission to replace the siding and repair a brick foundation at 26 Glover St. and Sen Spice was given permission for a new sign on Main Street. 

Top photo: John Steinbeck’s writer’s studio is one structure the Sag Harbor Village ARB is considering designating as a historic landmark (j. bayles photo). The board is also considering designating the Sag Harbor Cinema (middle photo) as a historic landmark (k. menu photo). 

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