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Landmark on Main Street symbol of Port Washington’s fighting spirit

The Landmark on Main Street Community Center features,

The Landmark on Main Street Community Center features, among other things, the Port Washington Children's Center, Youth Council Teen Center and Parent Resource Center. (Oct. 6, 2011) Credit: T.C. McCarthy

Many outsiders know of Landmark on Main Street in Port Washington for its theater, which hosts a range of concerts and cultural programs throughout its October through June season. To the community of Port Washington though, the building, located at 232 Main St., is much more.

“We identify ourselves as a community center first,” said Sharon Maier-Kennelly, 42, Landmark’s executive director and a 10-year resident of Port Washington.

Broadway stars Sutton Foster and Brian Stokes Mitchell and bands such as The Bacon Brothers and The Smithereens have performed to sold-out audiences inside Landmark’s 425-seat Jeanne Rimsky Theatre. But the stage has also hosted countless children’s dance and piano recitals.

“We have very low rental rates, so the community can come in and do their own events,” Maier-Kennelly added.

Beyond the theater, the not-for-profit Landmark on Main Street also houses 59 units of affordable senior citizen housing, the Port Washington Children’s Center, Parent Resource Center and the Youth Council’s Teen Center. More than 600 people use these resources on any given day, but all of this might never have come to be.

When the Port Washington Board of Education announced in 1984 that it would be closing the old Main Street School, a request was made to purchase the property, knock down the building and replace it with a parking garage.

“Many people worked really hard to fight that,” said Chris Bain, president of the Cow Neck Peninsula Historical Society.

The residents were able to make the case for saving the building, because it was an important landmark for sailors.

“It’s a landmark on nautical charts,” said Debbie Greco-Cohen, a native of Port Washington and a sailor herself. “You can see the dome from the water and when sailors would come into the bay they could look on the chart and see they were in Manhasset Bay if they didn’t know where they are.”

Residents were divided over how the vacant building should be used, though. One group wanted to create recreational and cultural programs for children and teens, and another favored using the property for affordable senior housing. Their shared goal of saving this historic building and creating resources for the community, brought them together though, and they merged in 1986 to form Landmark on Main Street. The organization eventually partnered with the Town of North Hempstead, which purchased the land in 1991 after voters overwhelming showed their support for Landmark’s plans through a public referendum. Through a combination of public funding and a successful capital campaign, which raised roughly $2 million, the old school building was renovated and Landmark opened in 1995.

“There was really this amazing grassroots effort by community members,” said Maier-Kennelly. “It’s our goal to maintain our building as resource for the community.”

Today, Landmark covers its operating expenses through sponsorships, sales of playbill advertisements, membership dues and its annual Spotlight Gala. This year’s gala, scheduled for May 10, will feature current Tony Award nominee Stephanie J. Block.

“I love that it’s a historic ... multigenerational building, “ Maier-Kennelly said. “From the seniors who live upstairs to the Parent Resource Center, which offers prenatal classes, it’s truly from birth through the aging process.”

Elly Shodell, director of the Local History Center at the Port Washington Public Library, said the history of Landmark on Main Street sums up the fighting spirit of the Port Washington people, both past and present residents.

Over time, residents have fought a proposal to build a multilevel parking garage near the Port Washington train station, saved countless trees on Main Street and blocked an incinerator from coming into town by lying down in front of construction vehicles, Shodell said.

“It’s been this way throughout,” Shodell said. “The people have gone to bat for this community and they’re not afraid … They want to protect what they have.”

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