When the Strand Theatre in Oak Bluffs officially reopens to the public for business on Saturday, June 20, it will join its Vineyard Haven sister, the Capawock Theatre, in celebrating the 40th anniversary of that Vineyard landmark film Jaws. Moviegoers can pick a 9:30 pm screening at the Strand or a 6:30 pm showing at the Capawock. Some of the fun of watching the 1975 Steven Spielberg film that launched the blockbuster era will be to sit in one of the Vineyard’s vintage movie theaters while seeing familiar Vineyard locales onscreen.
The colorful history of the Strand is tied for three generations to the Hall family of Edgartown. Although the Capawock, dating from 1912, precedes the Strand, which originally opened as a movie theatre in 1915, as the Island’s oldest movie theater, in its day the Strand was still among the oldest operating movie theaters in New England. Its 120-foot-long shape reflects its original use as a bowling alley, then called the Pastime. Irish immigrant Michael Keegan converted it into a movie theater and renamed it the Strand.
In 1929 Edgartown businessman Alfred Hall bought the Strand, along with the Island and the Capawock, at a time when Oak Bluffs was home to four movie theaters. In addition to the Strand and the Island, there were the Eagle and the Sea Breeze, and according to Mr. Hall’s son Benjamin (“Buzz”) Hall, E.M. Loews was planning a fifth until the Depression arrived.
The senior Mr. Hall brought celebrities to the Island to promote their movies. As a boy, his son Benjamin remembers turning an invitation to the 1943 Vineyard premiere at the family-owned Strand of The Moon and Sixpence into a paper airplane. Based on the novel by Somerset Maugham, the movie opening provided the occasion for a talk by Maugham at the Strand, and was attended by stage and screen actors Katharine Cornell and Garson Kanin.
Benjamin Hall also remembers that singing cowboy Gene Autry appeared at the Strand to promote his movies, and a one-hour TV special on Autry included images of the Strand and the Island theaters. Dating from the 1930s to the 1950s, Autry’s movies introduced country music to a national audience, and his TV series ran from 1950 to 1956.
The Strand fell into disrepair in 1998, and remained closed from 1999 to 2002, while a third-generation member of the Hall family, Brian Hall, worked on renovations that helped maintain the building’s original features. Once movies ceased to be screened on celluloid reels and the technology switched to digital projection and sound, it became prohibitively expensive to convert and operate single-screen movie theaters like the Strand. Both the Strand and the Capawock theaters closed once again, until Mark Snider, owner with his wife Gwenn of Katama’s Winnetu Oceanside Resort, formed the Martha’s Vineyard Theatre Foundation. He began a campaign to raise the money to lease the Strand and the Capawock from the Hall family, then renovate and reopen them. The Capawock, which needed fewer renovations, opened first on May 29. A special, invitation-only event at the 250-seat Strand on Friday, June 19, will feature music by Dwight & Nicole, and a movie, as yet not named. The possibility of adding the Island Theatre to the Martha’s Vineyard Theatre Foundation sites is under consideration.
In a telephone interview this week, Mr. Snider said heat and air conditioning have been added to the Strand, along with a complete reoutfitting of the restrooms. The seating has been adjusted to allow for more legroom, and the movie screen has been retrofitted to allow use of the stage behind it, allowing for lectures and multipurpose events as well as films.