Thanks from a Grateful Island

Lickety-split renovations are a specialty of sorts for Mark Snider. In 2012, in just 184 days, he turned what had once been the struggling nineteenth-century Point Breeze hotel on Nantucket into the up-to-date Nantucket Hotel & Resort. Today, on that neighboring island, it is the equivalent of his elegant Katama resort, the Winnetu. Still, frequenters of two venerable Island theaters in their former state can’t believe that in only four short months the Strand, built in 1915, and the Capawock, built in 1913, both in the era of silent films – have been transformed from shuttered eyesores into seemingly brand new theaters. They are equipped with new digital projection and sound equipment. There’s even a hearing aid loop at the Strand that links into the sound system. Bathrooms are immaculate and refreshment stands tempting.

Ninety-three-year-old Vineyard Haven resident John T. Hughes, who grew up in Oak Bluffs, remembers the days of silent movies at the Strand, when Dorothy Marley sat at the piano below the stage with her feet up because there were rats in the building. When cowboys raced across the screen on their horses she would play fast tunes, he recalls. When love was in the offing, she played sweet melodies. Admission was ten cents then.

Octogenarian Richard Carr says that, in his boyhood, he would search State Beach for bottles when he wanted money for a movie. He’d get two cents for beer bottles and three for milk bottles. If he found no bottles, he would dive from the Oak Bluffs pier for coins that passengers threw into the water. Other Strand-goers fondly remember munching Darling’s pink wintergreen popcorn bars while they watched a movie. Or annoying other viewers by gleefully rolling jawbreakers (popular in the 1940s) down the aisle while the film reels were being changed. Dennis daRosa chuckles over shooting paperclips at light fixtures with rubber bands.

At the Capawock over in Vineyard Haven, the film reels always seemed to need changing and one evening one escaped from the hands of the late Buddy Hinckley.  It rolled down the stairs from the projection room, with the film unwinding, and rolled all the way down to the stage, still unwinding.

Many a Tisbury moviegoer of the past, dismayed at the rest rooms at the old Capawock, would refer to the theater as the “Take-a-Walk.” Others, more happily, remember its balcony as the first place they held hands with a member of the opposite sex. Trina Kingsbury still shivers recalling the terrorizing two-mile walk home to the family farm from the Capawock after having seen The Wizard of Oz with its scary flying monkeys.

But so much for nostalgia. Island moviegoers, old and young, owe a hearty thanks to Snider, who fell in love with movies at the age of eight when his grandfather, David Kane, took him to see The Sound of Music in Boston. Later, to fulfill an arts requirement as an undergraduate business student, he took a film course that sent him and his classmates – their second-hand tuxedos stuffed into their backpacks – to the Cannes Film Festival in France. Though his nonprofit Martha’s Vineyard Theater Foundation is still in need of contributions to reach its million-dollar goal, the two theaters that not long ago seemed players in a slow-motion tragedy are popping like corn.

Everyone, as they say, loves a happy ending.