A welcome flicker of life


The prospect that life might return to the Strand Theater in Oak Bluffs and the Capawock Theater in Vineyard Haven is good news. These stars, now dimmed, have been removed from the Island’s constellation of good times too long.

As so often happens on the Vineyard, someone had a good idea and decided to act on it — in this case, Mark Snider, co-owner of Winnetu Oceanside Resort in Edgartown, who picked up the phone and made a call months ago to Benjamin Hall Jr. of Edgartown, co-owner of the Strand and Capawock theaters and attorney for Lucky 7 Realty Trust, the family company, to talk about how the two buildings might be revived.

Mr. Snider has formed the Martha’s Vineyard Theater Foundation (MVTF), and is embarked on a mission to raise $1 million in donations to renovate both buildings.

Martha’s Vineyard residents and Island visitors with good memories will remember the pleasurable sound of the clatter of the ancient film projector, and the smell of freshly cracked popcorn and melted butter in the lobby, of the iconic Capawock, built in 1913. Greeting friends outside and in the foyer of the movie theater was as much a part of the Island’s social fabric as a Sunday trip to the dump.

The newest member of the theater renovation board, Grammy-winning singer/songwriter Carly Simon, described her memories of the Capawock to reporter Barry Stringfellow: “I saw lots of teddy bear movies here. I saw lots of Disney movies here; I saw E.T. for the first time here. I also saw Heartburn here, which I wrote the soundtrack for, and Working Girl, too.”

Vineyarders have proven time and again they will generously support the arts. Look at the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse, which opened for its 32nd season last summer following a two-year, $2.5 million renovation project, or the state-of-the-art Martha’s Vineyard Film Center, just a glimmer in the eyes of film buffs back in 1999 when they formed the Martha’s Vineyard Film Society.

Of course, the details of the arrangement and Mr. Snider’s ability to convince Island residents and seasonal visitors to invest in this project will determine its ultimate success. Islander are right to ask tough questions. Why should the public invest in properties owned by the Halls when the Halls have not? It is reasonable to ask just how many movie theaters one Island can support. And it would be wrong to discount the potential effect on Entertainment Cinemas in Edgartown, the Island’s stalwart year-round commercial movie house, and a supportive member of the community.

Mr. Snider has a big job ahead of him. But he seems equal to the task, and it would be unfortunate if Islanders were to turn their backs on this endeavor at the outset, given its significant potential for the future.

“We want this to be more than just movie theaters,” Mr. Snider told reporter Barry Stringfellow. “We want to have lecture series, live performances, and school shows. We want it to have diversity so we can reach new audiences.”

The Island has big venues and small venues, but medium-size ones capable of hosting lectures and performances are scarce. The two newly renovated theaters could fill an important niche. They could also help smooth relations between the Halls and exasperated public officials.

The Hall family is one of the Vineyard’s largest private owners of commercial and residential properties, and hold a valuable real estate portfolio that includes anchor buildings in Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, and Vineyard Haven. In recent years, the Halls have attracted considerable criticism from town selectmen over their stewardship of downtown properties, most notably the long-vacant “yellow house” property on Summer Street in Edgartown, and the deteriorating Strand and Island theaters in Oak Bluffs. There has been talk of eminent domain in Edgartown and outright talk of demolition in Oak Bluffs.

It is long past time to look down the road past the lawsuits, the acrimony, and the excuses and accusations on both sides. We want to believe that the Halls want what is best for their family and the Island’s interests. Over the years, the continued operation and existence of the Capawock has been a labor of love for family patriarch Benjamin “Buzzy” Hall, at any given time the theater’s projectionist, ticket taker and concessions seller.

Thanks to Mr. Snider’s outreach, there is an opportunity not to be lost to forge a public-private partnership that will benefit the community as a whole and return the movie theaters to operation.