Sign of the Times
On May 25, 2019, at 8:20pm, the community of Sag Harbor and the East End welcomed the sign back to the front of the Sag Harbor Cinema.
Thanked at the lighting ceremony were the First Responders who saved the lives of people in the Village on December 16, 2016, when at almost the exact same time, 8:20pm, the facade of the Cinema had to be demolished and the sign was left in a heap on the ground. At that time, thanks to Village officials and the generous help of Chris Denon of Twin Forks Moving and Storage, the sign, damaged but recognizable, was shipped back to his storage facility. For more about this, see below!
When you think Sag Harbor Cinema, you think of the Sag Harbor sign.
Designed by John Eberson, one of the great designers of “atmospheric” theaters, our classic Art Deco neon sign has beckoned moviegoers since the 1930s. The sign was removed but then rebuilt and replaced by the heroic efforts of a group of citizens who had it reconstructed, and its second removal was in the wake of the terrible fire that almost destroyed the entire Cinema is December, 2016, Again, generous and heroic efforts on the part of concerned citizens saved it after the façade of the Cinema had to be removed. The story of the sign follows, below, in a pictorial salute.
Below is a detail from John Eberson’s original drawings for the Cinema dated March 19, 1936. There are even specifications for the color and position of the neon, and more of these plans can be seen in Sag Harbor: 100 Years of Film in the Village by Annette Hinkle, published by East End Press.
In the winter of 1960-61, the Cinema was closed due to lack of business. When the theater reopened on Easter weekend, 1961, it was redecorated with these “Wonder Bread” dots to attract audiences.
In May 2004, the theater’s somewhat dilapidated sign was removed by workers, destined for the dump, under a renovation begun by Gerald Mallow, the building’s owner since 1978. Shocked citizens gathered, among them filmmaker Brenda Siemer Scheider and playwright Joe Pintauro, who had the sign saved and moved to under a tarp on a boat trailer. Ms. Scheider then went on to raise money to duplicate it, after arriving at a deal with Mr Mallow to have it replaced, and it is this sign that was saved from the December 16th fire.
You can see a film on the relighting of the sign, with interviews with Brenda Siemer and others who worked to have it re-erected, in this youtube video.
And now for a day that will live in infamy, the horrible day of the 2016 fire. We were all aghast looking at what was left of the Cinema after our unbelievably brave First Responders, after many harrowing hours of freezing temperatures, icicles hanging from their helmets and uniforms, battled the blaze from early morning till the afternoon, saving adjacent buildings from further harm. Thankfully, no lives were lost. Merchants from all over the Village offered food and hot coffee to keep their energy up and we held our breath, hoping the Cinema would be saved.
But around 8pm that evening of December 16, 2016, a bulldozer came to knock the façade, which had become a danger, down. Our elected officials, during an emergency meeting, kindly gave permission to save the sign, and it was collected by Chris Denon of Twin Forks Moving and Storage.
The state of the “H” immediately after it was rescued by bulldozer after the collapsing of the façade. .John Battle and his assistant Franklin helped to restore the “H” before being sent to Clayton Orehek for neon work.
Franklin Paucar and John Battle hard at work finishing the H before being sent to Clayton Orehek for neon work. Photo Credit: Charlie Grubb
Neon Artist Clayton Orehek in his studio. Photo Credit: Tracey Elizabeth
In one of the great celebratory moments of last year, at our Big Tent Party for the Cinema, the sign made its reappearance on Twin Forks Moving and Storage’s flatbed truck, and immediately became the selfie hit of the party. Everyone had to have their photo taken with the sign, and “SAG” was lit up in its neon glory. “Harbor” was displayed on the other side of the truck with a sign saying it needed a little more love to light up again in its former glory.