Screen gem stays put

Film club buys historic Chatham movie house

CHATHAM–The Chatham Film Club has purchased the Crandell Theatre, the historic single-screen movie house that went dark for the first time in its 83 years last winter following the death of its owner. The club says it expects to resume showing movies the weekend of July 4.

The club, which stages the popular FilmColumbia film festival at the theater each fall, had been in negotiations to purchase the business from owner Tony Quirino, but Mr. Quirino died suddenly in January, and the building was placed on the market. The club continued its efforts to raise the money, with the asking price set at $650,000, according to club President Sandi Knakal. But last month a group led by Judy Grunberg, the owner of the Blue Plate restaurant and the founder of the PS/21 performance tent just outside the village, announced it planned to purchase the theater, although no details were released.

Ms. Knakal said Wednesday, June 2, that Ms. Grunberg was already a supporter and a contributor to the club’s campaign. And when the group led by Ms. Grunberg could not raise the funds quickly enough, the club stepped in along with an several new investors, one of them being Lael Locke, a member of the Village Board.

The other two investors are the Ellsworth Kelly Foundation and the Pershing Square Foundation. Mr. Kelly, an internationally known artist, lives in the county. The Pershing Square Foundation is a private foundation of Chatham resident Bill Ackman.

The purchase price was $550,000, with the Chatham Film Club as the new owner. The club is a federally tax exempt 501 (c) (3) organization.

The fate of the theater has been on the mind of many people who enjoyed stepping into something of a time-warp when they went to the movies at the Crandell, with its big screen, balcony and ornate architectural decorations. And Ms. Knakal was quick to issue reassurances that no major changes are planned. “We will try and replicate what Tony had,” she said referring to the late Mr. Quirino. She the Crandell would continue to be “a commercial theater” showing PG and R-rated movies.

The club will also continue to use the Crandell as the centerpiece of the annual film festival.

One change that might happen in the near future is a change of the time and possibly the frequency of the Chatham Film Club screenings now held one Sunday each month. She said that schedule was all that Mr. Quirino offered, and the film club might look for a more attractive time to screen the foreign and independent movies it sponsors.

But she added that this was a small matter that would not affect the overall nature of the theater. “We are not turning this into an art house,” she said.

Ms. Grunberg agreed with that approach, saying in the release that the group of backers agree in principle that the Crandell’s “first responsibility is to continue its historic role in bringing current popular films to the community.” She also cited the importance of the theater as a home for the festival in the village.

The next challenge for the club is to raise the money to make needed repairs to the building. The club had set a fundraising goal of $1.5 million, and she said that remains the target because there is much to be done. The theater opened in December 1926.

In the press release announcing the sale, which was closed Tuesday, June 1, Ms. Locke said, “If there is one legacy that I would like to leave the Village of Chatham, it’s the Crandell. To me, it is the heart and soul of our community, and I am delighted that I was able to help ensure that its future will also embody its past as our local movie house.”

The film club plans to keep the public informed about the progress it’s making reopening the theater at its website, www.thechathamfilmclub.com.

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