In a movie land where the multiplex reigns supreme, the Sag Harbor Cinema has stood out as a single-screen, small-town entertainment tradition since the 1930s.
A hub for residents in the tightknit community, those seeking to be beguiled, amused or diverted, the 400-seat art house cinema was one of five buildings to be damaged or destroyed in a blaze Friday morning.
Movies to be screened the week of Dec. 16 included the French film “Things to Come,” with Isabelle Huppert, and the Golden Globe-nominated “Moonlight,” starring Mahershala Ali.
Earlier generations enjoyed action flicks, such as serialized westerns in which the horse-riding heroes and villains were easy to distinguish, and the good guys always won.
As for the films, “they always had them on Saturday afternoon, and it was only a quarter or so,” said an 80-year-old attendee, who was interviewed for a 1996 Newsday article on the rise of the multiplexes. “It was a small town and my gang was always there,” he said.
According to news reports at the time, the present building was constructed in 1935 to 1936, said Tucker Roth, a trustee of the Sag Harbor Historical Society. The gala opening in 1936 featured “Captain January,” starring the tap-dancing Shirley Temple and Buddy Ebsen, she said.
But well before then, community members sought out amusement at other theaters that were on the same footprint at 90 Main St. — or almost the same footprint, she said, including a vaudeville venue back in the early 1900s.
Coming back to the present day, Twitter commenters expressed dismay at Friday’s damage.
“#SagHarborCinema I must have seen 100 films there. Noone will restore it to run the kind of small films it showed. Literally irreplaceable,” user @submergingmkt tweeted.
Still, the theater seemed destined for change because earlier this year its owner since 1978, Gerald Mallow, listed it for sale with a real estate agent at an asking price of $14 million. Calls Friday to Mallow were not returned.
Ed Bruehl of Saunders & Associates told Newsday in February that Mallow found the upkeep of the older building to be challenging. Also that, “he loves the space, he loves the movies, but he thinks it’s time for someone else to turn it back on and give it another life.”
With Jesse Coburn