Around the Island

Long live the Sag Harbor Cinema

KATHRYN MENU PHOTO | Exterior of the Sag Harbor Cinema.
KATHRYN MENU PHOTO | Before the flames: exterior of the Sag Harbor Cinema.

After months of negotiations, the not-for-profit Sag Harbor Partnership has entered into a contract to purchase the Sag Harbor Cinema from its longtime owner, Gerald Mallow.

The Partnership hopes to raise funds from private donors for the continuation of the cinema’s long tradition of unique programming, preserved for the last 38 years by Mr. Mallow, and to expand the mission of the cinema to include the formation of a new not-for-profit, the Sag Harbor Cinema Arts Center (SHCAC). This entity would be committed to education, outreach, and year-round programming serving the residents of the East End.

The rebuilding of this art deco theater would also restore Sag Harbor’s Main Street, which was devastated by a fire that destroyed the entire front of the cinema and adjoining buildings on December 16, 2016.

Plans are to rebuild the façade of the replicating renowned architect John Eberson’s original design. Since the day of the fire, the iconic “Sag Harbor” sign has been kept at Twin Forks Storage, and will be repaired and replaced. The Partnership hopes to have a temporary façade in place as soon as possible.

“The Village Board hopes to work closely with the cinema group in expediting this project,” said Deputy Mayor Rob Stein. Mayor Sandra Schroeder added, “the effort of a group of citizens to take action and turn the loss of the iconic building and landmarked sign damaged in the fire into a community arts center for the residents and citizens of the village is both appreciated and lauded by the board.”

“Most people don’t know that a group met back in 2009 to see about buying and preserving the cinema when it was advertised then for sale,” said April Gornik, head of the cinema group and Vice President of Sag Harbor Partnership. “We were concerned that we’d lose it to some big business, and Main Street would be irrevocably changed.”

“We reassembled again last July, with new input and members, when Gerry [Mallow] approached us about wanting to sell the cinema to someone who’d preserve it,” Ms. Gornik continued. “We were set to be in contract by the end of December when the fire threw everything into disarray, but we didn’t lose hope. We’ve been working with experts for eight months to ascertain how best to rebuild the cinema, make it profitable, and serve the community, and we’re grateful that Gerry stuck with us.”

Film writer and curator Giulia D’Agnolo Vallan of the Venice Film Festival and producer Andrew Fierberg, a member of Film Forum’s finance committee were both part of the 2009 cinema group, and have created the original vision for what will become a year-round, fully functioning cinema arts center.

Programs will be built on the art house tradition established by Mr. Mallow to and will include a rich variety of retrospective programs of international cinema, as well as educational initiatives tailored to local schools and the local community. The goal is to design a center that will tap into the talents of the many artists and filmmakers here.

“The Cinema Arts Center will provide an opportunity to draw on the talents and experiences of an ever-expanding year-round community on the East End” said Susan Lacy, filmmaker and creator of the American Masters series on PBS.

Plans for a rebuilt cinema include the preservation of the large, historic “curved scope” screen in in the main theater (approximately 250 seats); a second with 150 seats on the same floor, and a smaller 30 seat screening room on the second floor which will double as a classroom.

Award-winning architect Allen Kopelson of NK Architects has a created a design pro bono, like all the other work done by the group. Another renovation and revenue plus will be a locally-owned and sourced café on the first floor to satisfy hungry patrons and passers-by.

This year, the Partnership’s Big Tent party on Long Wharf on July 16 will honor Mr. Mallow and raise funds for the purchase and rebuilding of the cinema.

Last year’s party hosted over 800 guests and raised more than $130,000. “A Taste of Sag Harbor,” libations from local vineyards and beverage purveyors, music by the HooDoo Loungers, and activities for children will again be featured.

“We expect this year’s Big Tent party for the cinema to be a blockbuster,” said Nick Gazzolo, President of the Sag Harbor Partnership. “We are fortunate to live in a community where so many people are giving of their time, talent, and money toward restoring such a cultural treasure. Main Street won’t feel whole until that famous sign is shining again. Everyone wants to see this come-back.”

All contributions to the purchase and rebuilding of the cinema will be tax-deductible, and the Sag Harbor Partnership, a 501(c)3. One anonymous donor has come forward with the first $1 million for the project.

Visit the Sag Harbor Partnership’s website,, to stay up to date on the progress of this project.