Saugerties’ Orpheum Theater up for sale

(Photo by Will Dendis)

Are you a classic cinema buff? Got $795K rattling around in your pocket? One of the mid-Hudson’s last remaining old-timey movie palaces, the Orpheum Theater at 156 Main Street in Saugerties, has been put up for sale. It may need saving, as Win Morrison Realty is advertising the space as suitable for conversion to “many other uses,” possibly including “a school, recording studio or performing arts center.”

Built in 1908 by the Davis family, the Orpheum started its life as a vaudeville theater, a popular stop on the circuit between the Collingwood Opera House (now the Bardavon) in Poughkeepsie and similar venues in Albany. Burns and Allen, Gypsy Rose Lee and Cary Grant, when his name was still Archibald Leach, were among the showbiz luminaries on record as having performed live at the Orpheum. The original floor was flat, suitable to be cleared of seats for dances and even roller-skating.

Byron S. Thornton, patriarch of the family who (as of this writing) still own the 6,480-square-foot building, acquired it in 1919, renovated it and installed a sloping floor more suitable for film projection. With the advent of “talkies,” speakers were installed in the 1930s, and the space acquired a reputation for excellent acoustics. By the turn of the millennium the single-screen auditorium was divided up into a triplex, with two of the theater spaces seating 138 viewers and the third seating 145. The 35 mm reel-to-reel film projectors were converted to digital systems in 2012, with a 3-D-capable projection and screen installed in one theater.

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About 20 miles to the south in Rosendale, a single-screen cinema of similar vintage was rescued from conversion to “other uses” by a collective of determined community activists who managed to scrape together enough donations to buy the building from the family who had run it for generations and were ready to retire. Grant funding followed, enabling the Rosendale Theatre to undergo a long, gradual series of renovations that preserved its vintage look and feel. It’s now a prized community asset, still showing movies, run by a not-for-profit organization. But a $795,000 pricetag is a lot of money for local historic preservation buffs to raise.

If any readers happen to know anyone with a fondness for small Hudson Valley towns and nostalgic spaces for going to the movies, now would be a good time to give them a heads-up.

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