Hampton Arts Cinema

2 Brook Road,
Westhampton Beach, NY 11978

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longislandmovies
longislandmovies on October 16, 2004 at 4:44 am

As a twin this theater box office #s were very weak even in the summer.A nice local theater that closed i think in the late 90s

chelydra
chelydra on October 16, 2004 at 2:59 am

I worked at the Hampton Arts for a year or so 1974-75, during one of its periodic renovations. The place had quite a unique history. Before the Hampton Arts went up, circa 1925-1930, movies were shown around the corner at Mechanics' Hall (later the Masonic Hall, then a nightclub called Scarlett’s). The original owner had no insurance, and not much money, so when it burned down, he rebuilt it himself! It was home-made, with all sorts of strange little nooks and crannies where you could see the chicken-wire-and-cement structure. While he was rebuilding, circa 1937, the new Main Street Theater opened (a modest mini-palace now known at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center) – and the Hampton Arts couldn’t compete, particularly in such a small town.

I think the place was abandoned for about fifteen years, then in the early 1950s it opened as a live summer stock theater called the Hampton Star, which lasted for a few seasons. After that, irt became a struggling movie house again – at which point it was rechristened the Hampton Arts (the most economical name change available, not requiring any new letters on the sign).

Around 1958, the place was bought by Joe Puma, an impressive old guy who also had something to do with the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival and other such sophisticated and cosmopolitan enterprises.
When Joe Puma was running the place, it showed almost exclusively foreign films – Fellini, Bardot, and all that – with predictably tiny audiences, and with plenty of hostility from the very conservative and provincial year-round community, who thought it was undermining local morals. There were even art shows in the lobby, as well as free coffee.

After Puma died, around 170, his widow and stepson took over, and they managed to turn it into a semi-mainstream moviehouse – but it still retained its old eccentricity. They had to work hard to compete with the United Artists chain and were involved in a big lawsuit to break UA’s monopoly on movie distribution. Their usually low-budget renovations were done by local characters who had their own odd ideas about interior paneling and exterior clapboard siding. The one big extravagance was antique cast-iron seats, incredibly heavy, with deep red plush cushions – the balcony groaned under their weight and sagged a few inches, and there was a visible crack. But like everything else, it somehow held up – the original owner’s reconstruction may have been crude but nothing ever actually collapsed. The people who worked there tended to keep cats in the theater, and I used to let in anyone I knew for free on winter evenings when no one else was around. Our wages were abysmal; I survived on peanut M&M’s. The projectionist and I enjoyed blasting the soundtrack to The Harder They Come before every movie. Several of our local loonies used to hang out, stay warm, and help me change the marquee letters. My work there ended after my boss (the stepson, an entertainingly Napoleonic character) changed his mind every evening for about four weeks running about what color spots he wanted beaming down onto the screen between shows – each change of bulbs meant another trip carrying dozens of bulbs down a narrow catwalk with no headroom, and nothing but flimsey ceiling panels between me and the cast iron seats fifty feet below.

The place was “twinned” around 1980, and then sold to a big chain (Cineplex Odeon, I think), who predictably gave up on it a few years later. (I adopted one of the stray cats and named her Puma in honor of the late Joe. The best of the murals I’d painted for the walls were looted.) The last I heard, the Hampton Synagogue had taken over the property.