Six months after its initial groundbreaking, The Picture House in Pelham officially “opened” Friday with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Passing cars honked in approval as theater staff and government officials paid tribute to the 90-year-old landmark that, since 1921, has screened silent films, then talkies, including news from the front lines during World War II.
Almost demolished, The Picture House was saved and reorganized as a nonprofit; now it’s been transformed into an independent film and education center that showcases independent, international, documentary and classic cinema.
"Saving an iconic theater like The Picture House means more than saving a building,” Jennifer Christman, executive director of The Picture House, said. “It means preserving a continuum of movies and memories that is almost as old as cinema itself.”
Sen. Jeffrey Klein (D-Pelham), a self-proclaimed movie buff who helped secure funding for the project, called it a “labor of love.”
“We talk about pork and budgets, and now we’re defining and redefining our priorities. In addition to creating jobs and aiding economic development, the theater has a cultural history,” Klein said.
The Picture House has been listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places since May 28, 2010.
Christman said the newly refurbished theater will also offer film and educational programs.
“In addition to Sunday Essentials, our classic film series, and Family Flicks, we have the Reel Insider for indie film aficionados, TopDocs for seeing the newest documentaries, Women on Film, and two festivals–Global Lens and the Westchester Italian Film Festival,” Christman said.
Additionally, a new program called The Company will feature workshops in acting, screenwriting and directing for students in grades 2 through 12.
Karl Gustafson, senior community developer at the NYS Office of Community Renewal, said the theater renovations were phenomenal. “I wish we had before and after photos,” he said. “The change is dramatic.”
Gustafson said a similar project in his hometown in upstate New York brought a lot of pride to the community.
“I’m from upstate New York, a city called Jamestown with a population of 30,000,” he said. “One of the theaters, the Palace Theater, was remodeled about 20 years ago, and it affects everyone in the neighborhood.”
A movie house isn’t a movie house without popcorn and other snacks, a fact highlighted by Legislator Kenneth W. Jenkins (D-Yonkers).
“I know you’re here for the popcorn, and it smells good, so I’ll be brief,” Jenkins said. “This is wonderful for the community and for economic development.”