Moviegoers should not look to Oak Bluffs to catch the latest blockbusters, as both the Island and the Strand theatre are closed until further notice. The historic Island, currently roofless, will most likely not be in commission before next summer. And despite efforts to reopen it, the Strand remains out of use.
The buildings are owned by the Lucky 7 Realty Trust, and Edgartown attorney Benjamin Hall Jr. looks after the building on behalf of the trust.
The Hall family has been involved in the Oak Bluffs cinematic scene since the beginning. Mr. Hall’s grandfather helped bring in the talkies when silent films were dying out. Over the years, they have screened major wide release films In March, the owners of the neighboring moped business took over operation of the Strand building under a long-term lease. The original agreement of the lease prohibited movie screening, so as to not provide competition with the Island Theatre. When they realized the Island would not be reopened this season, they changed the terms. “My family and I would like to have had it operating for a few weeks now,” Mr. Hall said. He estimates that the Island is 60 or 70 per cent bigger than the Strand, accommodating far more seats.
The Strand has not played movies since August 2011, and the Island closed last fall. At the Oak Bluffs selectmen’s meeting Tuesday, contractor Chris Lowe, who has handled construction at the Island, appealed to the selectmen for an exception to the outdoor seasonal construction ban on Circuit avenue. The selectmen voted to allow Mr. Lowe to resecure tarps and remove a construction partition from the alleyway.
The theatre is positioned in a particularly vulnerable spot to weather. Rain collects at the bottom of the avenue and a wind tunnel that begins at the Steamship dock blows the temporary roof tarps out of position. Mr. Lowe described them as 60-mile-an-hour winds, expressing his wish to avoid further damage during hurricane season. During renovations which began in the fall, an engineer identified strucutral concerns on one side of the roof, so work had to be stopped in order to bring in a more specialized engineer to assess the situation. The structural damage appeared to be caused by leaks in the roof, though the specific nature of the problem has yet to be identified. The Island was built in 1915.
“We are still working on trying to orchestrate having movies run at the strand,” Mr. Hall said. “That is an effort that is ongoing.” The owners of the moped business have leased the space for the summer, but have not set up a movie-screening operation.
“We are trying to meet everybody’s needs and come to some sort of operating theatre to reestablish it as an operating building,” Mr. Hall said. “It has been dragging on for a little longer than everybody would have liked.” The roof will not be fixed until September, when the construction ordinance is lifted and the trust can get an engineer to the site to assess improvements that need to be made. “We are hoping that it can be reconstructed and can be used as a theatre again, that is yet to be seen,” he said. Mr. Hall said he keeps a photograph of the Island theatre at his law office in downtown Edgartown.
Though he confirmed that the buildings are not officially on the market for sale, he said people have approached the trust with interest. “We just say, make an offer. Stuff might not be for sale but if somebody offers a price reasonable . . . ”