The new year found two fewer movie screens in Westchester, as Bowtie Cinemas shuttered the Bedford Playhouse, but a grassroots group is hoping that two new screens — and a non-profit art movie house — will spring up in its place by this time next year.
“This theater has been integral to Bedford Village for seven decades,” said John Farr, who heads Friends of Bedford Playhouse. “We hope to keep that alive, and make it even better, creating a destination for film in northern Westchester.”
The group formed last fall, after Bowtie announced it would abandon the under-performing site on the Bedford Village green.
The two-screen playhouse opened as a one-screener in 1947 and the Bedford Historical Society saw an opportunity to save the theater. They drafted Farr, who had helped launch a similar, successful effort at Stamford’s Avon Theater a dozen years ago.
“The Avon, when we started, looked like Berlin after the war,” said Farr, a former ad exec who now curates a film site called www.bestmoviesbyfar.com. The 22-year Bedford resident said the Avon now has a schedule of art and first-run features and a documentary and speaker series.
The vision for Bedford Playhouse is similarly ambitious: Bring back one large screen, what they hope will be Westchester’s largest, to a restored main theater; add a second, more intimate theater; present classics, documentaries, independents and family fare; teach film appreciation to local schoolkids; sponsor a speaker and reading series and host special events featuring local movie insiders.
Among the high-placed friends of the Friends on the advisory panel: Joe Berlinger (“Brother’s Keeper”), J.C. Chandor (“All is Lost,” “A Most Violent Year”), Jayni and Chevy Chase (“Fletch”), Lasse Hallstrom (“Chocolat”) and his actress wife, Lena Olin (“Enemies: A Love Story”).
The ambitious vision comes with an ambitious bottom line and a breakneck timetable.
“We’re looking to raise $2.5 million by March 2,” Farr said, explaining that that is the deadline set by owner Alchemy Properties. The price tag covered the purchase of new screens and digital equipment and the shifting of the layout, but not the lease of the space. Farr declined to divulge the asking price, referring the question to Alchemy president Ken Horn, who did not return a call for comment.
Joan Simon, a broker from Admiral Real Estate Services, the firm offering the property, said it was being offered as a lease, not a sale.
Horn supports the project to preserve the space as a theater, Farr said, but there is a time limit.
“The deadline has to do with being fair to Alchemy,” Farr said. “They have developed an alternate plan to convert the theater into retail space. They have to go to Plan B at some point. They could only give us two or three months.”
“I knew it would be a steep climb, but I thought that might be an advantage, giving people an opportunity to tell us, right away: Do you want this or not? The affluence of Greenwich made what we did at the Avon possible. And there is a high concentration of wealth in Bedford.”
Farr said the Playhouse wouldn’t compete with the world-class Jacob Burns Film Center in Pleasantville.
“We’re looking for a coooperative relationship with the Burns,” he said. “They draw from central and southern Westchester. We’ll draw from the north, from Bedord and North Salem and Pound Ridge and Chappaqua.”
If there is support for the effort, Farr envisions an opening by 2016.
“I think I’d like to use that amazing screen to show ‘Lawrence of Arabia,’ which was restored by Robert Harris, a great film restorer, who lives right in the area. Our idea is ‘movies the way they were meant to be seen, bigger than life.’ And that would be a great night.”