How does one properly pay homage to a symbol? As a child, I visited Millerton, NY’s The Moviehouse and gaped at the clock tower perched on its peak like a homing beacon for those in search of an escape into the world of film. It was a treat for myself – a child of divorce – and for my parents, who were able to briefly trade custody schedules and middle-age stress for popcorn and fantasy. Those were happy times for me, logged in my nostalgic mind for time immemorial, but that says little of the decades of memory that came before my childhood wonderment.
Commissioned by Julius Benedict, The Moviehouse was built in 1903 as Grange # 796 and was soon after converted to a movie theater with a ballroom on the second floor. For the next seven-decades, The Moviehouse would make its mark on Dutchess County and, alongside Terni’s, would come to define the small village’s Main Street. Despite its undeniable presence, the theater would go on to experience its share of industry hardships and by the late 1970s, it had become derelict. Then, on a warm summer afternoon in 1977, The Moviehouse’s story would change forever.
Landmark to icon
“After building our weekend getaway lake house, on a beautiful summer afternoon in 1977, my husband, Robert, and I wandered into town to explore the Village of Millerton,” recalled former owner Carol Sadlon in November of 2020 after announcing The Moviehouse would be seeking new stewardship after four decades. “We stumbled on a closed, dilapidated movie theater for sale and shared a light bulb moment; we could restore the historic building and program diverse, independent, and foreign films for the community.”
On Memorial Day weekend in 1978, The Moviehouse opened with Neil Simon’s Award-winning film The Goodbye Girl and thus began the theater’s 42-year journey toward becoming a local icon. For the next four decades The Moviehouse not only became a unique destination for arts and culture, but a testament to the life and legacy of Carol and her husband Robert Sadlon as well. Described as a man with a vision, Sadlon worked tirelessly to create a fervent community around film in the Hudson Valley while shining a white-hot light on the artistic talents of the people in surrounding Berkshire and Litchfield county towns. Together, Robert and Carol made The Moviehouse one of the largest independent cinemas in the Hudson Valley and even earned a spot in the National Register of Historic Places.
“It was born out of love, not business,” said Carol who lost Robert when he passed away in May of 2019 after battling brain cancer. The spirit of the couple’s ambition imbued itself throughout the titular building through the years. During their decades of work, Carol and Robert started and successfully ran many other local businesses including the award-winning Simmons’ Way Village Inn (today, The Millerton Inn) that graced the cover of April 27, 1987’s New York Magazine, an Art School, ArtsWork Forum, and eventually other movie theaters in Connecticut. Still, it was The Moviehouse that remained both at the heart of the surrounding community as well as the passion of Carol and her beloved husband.
As with many small businesses across the country, the year 2020 brought with a plot twist that was at once wrought with tragedy and struggle while also illuminating what makes the culture of small town life so special. During the COVID-19 state lock-downs while movie theaters across the State sat in idle anxiety, Carol once again found solace in the support from neighbors and business friends from within the community. “We have been very fortunate to share our passions with a supportive and caring community,” Carol said. “I am so grateful for all of our patrons who continued to support our online virtual cinema effort and for local partners like the Sharon Playhouse who allowed us to screen some films for their summer drive-in events. It was an incredible joy for all of us to get together.” Carol also recalls the other vital asset of The Moviehouse’s sustainability, the theater’s staff and their incredible fortitude. “The businesses that occupy our small towns are institutions for the community and the staff at The Moviehouse were the lynch pin for our viability. I cannot say enough about their endurance over that last year, they are so skilled and loyal and were even willing to stay and help continue to operate The Moviehouse.”
Robert and Carol’s impact on the community and the artistic culture of the area are no doubt a tough act to follow – but two have emerged with the same unmistakable ambition and moreover, a kindred love for the magic of film.
A new beginning
While in the throes of a cautious search for a new steward of The Moviehouse, Carol made certain her mission was to carry on a legacy cemented in a generation of local film love. “The Moviehouse is the heart of the regional community and our passion. Still, the time had come to pass the baton to a new generation,” she told Main Street in November of 2020. “A visionary who can nurture and grow the theater on the foundation we have built with a creative understanding of the future of the media arts and a new and enthusiastic generation of cinephiles.”
It quickly became clear that rather than a goodbye note, Carol’s transition would instead be a love letter to The Moviehouse itself and the community that has so lovingly embraced its presence for generations.
Two who have answered that letter post haste
In late February, The Moviehouse announced that – after closing on March 15, 2020 – the acclaimed local theater would reopen under new stewardship in the coming Spring. As the news circulated, ears perked, and the question became “who?”
Who could take on such a daunting challenge in the face of lofty expectations? Enter David Maltby and Chelsea Altman who saw the iconic property as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to honor The Moviehouse’s history while bringing new energy and vision, building on its huge base of support to keep The Moviehouse growing, relevant, and vibrant. Unsurprisingly, the couple has long-standing ties to The Moviehouse and the local community, as well as extensive experience founding and running business ventures.
David is a founding partner of Empire Square Group, a real estate investment firm, and Chelsea is the co-owner of six bars and restaurants in Brooklyn. Both have deep artistic roots, as Chelsea had a successful career in New York as an actress appearing on and off-Broadway, as well as in roles for film and television. David has been an award-winning rock and roll drummer, music, and theatre producer. His mother was a film producer, and his father is a Broadway director and lyricist.
After meeting Carol to discuss the future of The Moviehouse, the couple say they felt that undefinable universal feeling as if the stars had aligned. “I have been coming to The Moviehouse my entire life – since it opened in 1978,” says David. “It has a special place in my heart, and we are thrilled to have the opportunity to continue Robert and Carol Sadlon’s legacy and carry The Moviehouse forward.”
“When I made the decision to find new leadership for The Moviehouse, I looked for people who shared our passion and enthusiasm for the cinema, art, and community,” Carol told us in March of this year. “It was a heartwarming journey as eleven suitors stepped up wanting to take The Moviehouse forward. I feel confident that David and Chelsea are the right choices – they are brilliant, creative people, skilled and successful in their current endeavors, with deep-seated ties to the community and enthusiasm for the future of cinema arts.”
Chelsea and David see owning The Moviehouse as a way to marry their passions for arts and community. While building on a long-established and beloved institution, they hope to add their fresh and unique perspective on film, entertainment, and nightlife to enhance the moviegoing experience. They plan to leverage the deep local community of artists, actors, and filmmakers, many of whom are their friends, to get everyone involved to ensure The Moviehouse remains a social and cultural center for all, continuing the celebrated tradition of special programming and unique events that have made The Moviehouse the local landmark it has become today.
What’s new is prologue
“The Moviehouse, because of its history and its presence both on Main Street as well as within the local community, has been the most fun design project I have ever taken on,” says Chelsea who staked her claim in the design world reimagining spaces all over New York City. “Though there certainly exists a larger learning curve when it comes to owning and operating a theater as opposed to my other ventures mainly in the restaurant business.”
To start, both David and Chelsea felt it right to begin renovations by tackling one of the more long-awaited additions to The Moviehouse, one that has been in the works – as locals know – for quite some time. “The elevator will obviously be one of the biggest additions in The Moviehouse,” says David. “We wanted to make sure that promise to the community was fulfilled.”
The installation of an elevator isn’t the only change in the works for the theater’s second floor. The couple has already made substantial changes to the area by creating a lounge and bar for patrons looking for something a bit unique. The new vibe already feels befitting of those who crave a different type of moviegoing experience. “We are working hard to have our upstairs lounge and bar room opened by the first of July,” says Chelsea. “It will give folks a really cool, funky, fun, and most importantly, relaxed lounge vibe.”
Though excitement tinges the atmosphere within the walls of the historic theater, new and challenging experiences meet Chelsea and David around each corner. “For one, I have never been much engaged with social media,” says Chelsea. “The days of being disconnected are over for me now as it is imperative that we connect with Millerton and the local film industry, so that can be a bit overwhelming.” Still, the idea of creating events around films and thinking of new and exciting ways to engage audiences with the theater experiences are what drew the couple in the first place, and what keeps them grounded each day. “One of the most attractive things for me as a designer is that The Moviehouse presents a uniquely intimate and cozy atmosphere,” says Chelsea. “For me, working on a scale that is small without sacrificing character has been a real thrill and we are excited to share our vision with everyone. Our main goal is to update a few aesthetics while still maintaining the welcoming vibe that folks are used to here at The Moviehouse.”
As part of the digital revolution, The Moviehouse’s entire website has been revamped as well. “We are really invested in giving our customers more options with a modern ticketing system,” says David. “Customers will now be able to purchase in advance and event-related tickets online. Especially with folks still feeling concerned about distance, now is the time to afford moviegoers that choice.”
As small businesses start to tentatively recover, the looming air of hesitantcy remains, and both Chelsea and David are very much aware that choice is a top priority. “We understand that two things are true right now,” says David. “That many folks are still not ready to fully come back into a movie theater-type crowd, and also that many folks are eager to get back out and feel normal, do normal things, and going to the movies is part of that sense of normality. So we will be limited in capacity for a short time, and hope that folks can understand that we might sell out of tickets quicker in the short-term.”
The notion of honoring the history of such a local watershed for the surrounding community is one thing. It is entirely another to do so in the aftermath of a worldwide pandemic that has touched every aspect of the human condition and small business viability. Both Chelsea and David approach the challenge with the quiet resolution one might expect from any number of cinematic dynamic duos. “We know small businesses everywhere struggled through this past year, in Millerton and throughout the country,” says Chelsea. “We are ready to help contribute to the village’s economy and help ease folks back into the movies and enjoying the films they love.”
Hopefully, as Millerton reawakens from the fog of 2020, and the soft lighting of the movie posters lining the century’s old building flicker on once again, the new underdogs will come out on top, as it should be in any good blockbuster. “While we don’t know what to expect, we know the history of the Hudson Valley as well as the Berkshires and Litchfield Hills is fertile ground for the arts,” says David. “We want to become a hub for those in the community in that respect, but also contribute to the rich history of the arts in our area. We may be its new stewards, but The Moviehouse will remain the enduring landmark it has been for nearly fifty years in the Village of Millerton, as well as for visitors far and wide.”
The Moviehouse is located at 48 Main Street in Millerton. To learn more, visit them online at www.themoviehouse.net.