For more than 80 years, the neon sign on the façade of the Sag Harbor Cinema stood sentinel over Main Street, its red and blue lettering announcing exactly where one was in the world.
Then, on the morning of December 16, 2016, the old movie theater, which was built in 1936, caught fire along with several other buildings on the west side of Main Street. By nightfall, the façade was deemed too weak to stand and was brought down by a bulldozer—the iconic Art Deco letters spelling out “Sag Harbor” came down along with it. The sign, battered and damaged, has been in storage at Twin Forks Moving & Storage in Bridgehampton ever since.
But over Memorial Day weekend, the neon sign will once again shine over Main Street. On May 13, the Sag Harbor Cinema Arts Center, which is rebuilding the movie theater, announced that the Sag Harbor sign will be re-lit on the cinema’s façade in a ceremony on Saturday, May 25 at 8 p.m.
In addition to members of the Sag Harbor Partnership and the Sag Harbor Cinema Arts Center, also present for the ceremony to reignite the light will be county, town, and village officials. Cinema chair April Gornik is hopeful that the movie theater will reopen its doors to the public within six months.
“Initially, we were thinking we could wait until the Cinema opened to light the sign. But Memorial Day weekend felt like the perfect opportunity to celebrate not only the start of summer, but how far we have come on this journey,” Ms. Gornik said in a statement. “The building façade will soon be finished, thanks to our great crew from ConRac Construction.”
Over the course of more than two years since the fire, local metalworker John Battle and Twin Forks Moving & Storage owner Chris Denon have volunteered their time and effort to restore and care for the sign. Mr. Denon was in Sag Harbor on the night of the fire and after the façade came down, he arranged for a truck to transport the cinema sign to his storage facility for safe keeping.
“It would be wrong to withhold the sign from all the people in this community who have been so generous in getting us this far,” said Ms. Gornik. “We hope this re-inspires visitors and residents to help open the Sag Harbor Cinema Art Center this fall, free and clear of debt, fulfilling our promise to the community to bring the Cinema back.”
As part of the May 25 celebration, the Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce has agreed to encourage Main Street storekeepers to stay open late after the sign lighting ceremony.
“Part of saving the Sag Harbor Cinema has always been to help keep Main Street intact, so we’re looking forward to celebrating this momentous occasion with Main Street merchants,” noted Cinema board treasurer Susan Mead.
Progress on construction of the cinema is continuing quickly, but it is estimated that an additional $3 million to 4 million is needed before it can be fully functional. The final round of fundraising will be put towards the expansion of a new third floor, seats for all three theaters, film and sound equipment, restoration of historic fixtures, café and concession equipment and supplies, computer equipment and salaries.
Incidentally, this is not the first time the Sag Harbor Cinema sign has been reinstalled on the façade. Designed by John Eberson, one of the great designers of “atmospheric” theaters in the early 20th century, the original Art Deco neon sign had fallen into disrepair by 2004. In May of that year, the sign was removed by workers and destined for the dump under a renovation begun by Gerald Mallow, the building’s owner at the time.
That’s when filmmaker Brenda Siemer Scheider and playwright Joe Pintauro intervened and saved the old sign. Ms. Scheider began a fundraising campaign to have the sign duplicated, and in October 2005, Sag Harbor’s Main Street was the scene of celebration as the newly fabricated neon letters were lifted into place on the façade.
Neon artist Clayton Orehek, who was instrumental in building that sign in 2004, was hired again to repair it after the fire by hammering out and re-soldering what had been damaged, painting it, and bending and replacing the red and blue neon.
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