The beloved Sag Harbor Movie Theatre, with its familiar white concave arc facade and red neon lettered 18-foot long sign underlined in blue and simply proclaiming SAG HARBOR, has welcomed community members and visitors to enter its Art Deco lobby and vintage auditorium to enjoy art house and eclectic films for more than 80 years.
Sadly, the theatre was demolished on Saturday, December 15, 2016 following a fire that began in the frigid early hours of December 14 on a deck behind the theatre. The blaze jumped to the roof of the theatre causing damage of such magnitude as to render the structure unsafe with no hope of renovation or restoration.
Opened on November 1, 1919 as the Elite Theatre, the name was changed to the Sag Harbor Theatre in 1927 when it was acquired by the Glynne chain for a then substantial sum between $35,000 and $40,000.
Remodeled and renamed in 1936, the Sag Harbor Cinema
, as it is sometimes referred to, reputedly presented the first "talkie" film on the East End (1929 "Kitty"). The new John Eberson designed theatre razed the auditorium and the structure became a two-story, steel-and-concrete theater with stucco walls.
At the time of the fire, the present owner, Gerald Mallow, had recently placed the theatre on the market for sale at $14 million (2015). Mallow has previously been seeking $12 million (2008). Having faced community outrage in 2004 when he removed the iconic sign from the facade to install a new neon replacement, community members saved the original nine rounded, sheet metal letters, and raised funds to build an exact replica of the original in aluminum which was installed in 2005.
Whatever comes to occupy the 7,000-square foot space at 90 Main Street in Sag Harbor will become part of the historic lineage of a village whose residents have always looked at the familiar theatre as a statement that they are home.
Eileen Casey spent many years working in the television and music industries in New York City on the "ABC In Concert" weekly series, as well as several prime time network and cable television specials. An award-winning journalist, editor, and artist, and former Editor-in-Chief of Hamptons.com, she enjoys staying warm in Charleston and cool in the Hamptons.