More than a year after a 2016 fire on an icy winter day destroyed one of Sag Harbor’s most iconic symbols, a groundbreaking for the new Sag Harbor Cinema was met with applause and hope Saturday.
Residents and dignitaries such as Legis. Bridget Fleming (D-Noyac) were in attendance for the groundbreaking of the 90 Main St. theater, which burned down in an early morning fire on Dec. 16, 2016. Through a multimillion-dollar fundraising effort, the theater is expected to be rebuilt by next year, according to Nick Gazzolo, president of local nonprofit The Sag Harbor Partnership, which purchased the cinema.
“It’s been an incredible community effort,” Gazzolo said of the fundraising efforts. “It’s been a lot of work, but it’s been really inspiring to see how many people wanted to keep this in the community and not see it turn into a condo or a store.”
The new theater will have three screens, a screening room, and a reception area and terrace, according to partnership members. There are also plans to add cultural programming such as hosting foreign documentary films, guest speakers and the OLA Latino Film Festival.
Gazzolo said the new theater would have one foot rooted in tradition and the other pointing toward the future.
“It’s going to look the same from the outside and have the old sign and have the old feel to it, but it’s going to be state of the art,” Gazzolo said.
Susan Mead, 70, a Sag Harbor resident since 2002 and the partnership’s treasurer, said she witnessed the fire. The loss of the theater, she said, hit the harbor village’s residents hard emotionally.
“This theater is part of the soul of this community,” Mead said, adding people she spoke with felt the theater’s signature blue-and-orange neon sign above the building represented the community. “It means the village to them.”
It was that sense of community that helped drive the fundraising process, said April Gornik, 65, a Sag Harbor artist and the partnership’s vice president.
“The word ‘community’ is so overused but it’s so real here, and you can’t avoid it, and you shouldn’t avoid it,” Gornik said, adding small donations from $2 to $100 from residents helped bring the theater to Saturday’s groundbreaking. “We really valued those donations. It’s not something we take lightly. We understand that for someone, $100 of their savings is a significant contribution.”
“Cinema is what makes the town happen,” said Giulia D’Agnolo Vallan, a Sag Harbor resident and film writer, curator and programmer who was in New York City at the time of the fire. She remembered feeling disbelief when she heard about it.
The cinema’s return to the village, which has a strong artistic community, would help foster all kinds of artistic discussion in the future, Vallan said.
“I’m looking forward to what’s going to happen when it’s open,” she said.