How Does Your Garden Go?

Westport’s 5 movie theaters are long gone. But for years, Westporters who dislike the corporate multiplexes in Norwalk and Fairfield — and/or who appreciate the diverse, non-blockbuster films those big boxes would never show — have headed to Garden Cinemas in Norwalk.

The theater is an important part of Norwalk’s cultural landscape. It’s brought life to the Wall Street neighborhood too, with Westporters and others discovering fun, funky nearby restaurants.

But Garden Cinemas may be living out its final scene. Norwalk officials may demolish the theater. The space would be used as a parking lot, to serve a nearby condominium development called Wall Street Place.

The full Norwalk Common Council votes on the plan tonight (Tuesday, July 23, 7:30 p.m., City Hall, 125 East Avenue, Room 231).

A number of Westporters attended last week’s Common Council Planning Committee meeting which okayed the demolition. Opponents of the parking lot plan hope for a large turnout tonight. They advise arriving by 7 p.m., to get into the room.

An online petition has been started, to help save the Garden Cinemas.

The Wall Street Neighborhood Association opposes demolition. They fear damage to “the core of our historic neighborhood,” and to the morale of “its growing community of artists, filmmakers, musicians and creative businesses.”

They’d like to see the Garden Cinemas operated as a non-profit community theater, or be included in the condo’s construction plan.

In addition to showing the type of movies the Garden Cinemas is known for, the community film center would offer after-school programs, with STEAM education in film production and technology; screening facilities; meeting rooms, and offices.

It would also show student films, and host local film festivals (Westport has searched for appropriate venues for this in the past).

Norwalk’s film industry is growing. Sono Studio and Factory Underground are nearby production facilities; the Wall Street Theater and George Washington Carver Foundation offer programming and community events.

For years, Westport has talked about bringing a theater back downtown. The city next door already has one.

For how much longer, though?

Stay tuned. The drama continues.

(Hat tips: Pam Karpen, Dennis Jackson, Elaine Wyden, Bill Kutik)

20 responses to “How Does Your Garden Go?

  1. Right, Dan. Westporters know what losing independent movie theaters does to a downtown. And how hard it is to start a new one. Now we’re on the edge of losing the Garden Cinemas — the only place to see foreign and independent films — torn down for *parking* for the Vytek Building, unfinished for two years across the street.

    If you’re a devoted patron as I am, please show up at Norwalk Town Hall (125 East Avenue) tonight at 7 pm for the 7:30 pm start in Room 231. This is the final vote that could kill the theaters!

    Sign up to speak for three minutes if you like — no need to be a Norwalk resident — or be there to applaud the many speakers who will oppose the absurdity of “pave paradise, put up a parking lot”!

    If not, sign the petition linked in Dan’s post or send an e-mail of opposition to all 15 council members by using this one address: CommonCouncil3@Norwalkct.org

    • Don’t overlook the Avon in downtown Stamford which also features ‘foreign and indy’ films…plus plenty of dining and drinking options in that area. Was renovated a few years ago.

      • Jack, the Avon is a fabulous theater, having undergone a very expensive restoration process years ago. As an occasional venue it’s great. But do we really want to have to deal with unpredictable backups on 95 all the way down to Stamford to see indie films on a regular basis?

    • I’m sorry to say the public will have no chance for verbal input tonight. Although we do hope that a major turn out will speak louder than words.

  2. If you’re a supporter, write the council members to tell them how often you go to the Garden and how much money you spend afterward eating at Pontos Taverna, Fat Cat Pizza, Peaches, Aji 10, or even at El Dialo, the Ecuadorian Restaurant around the corner with whole roasted pig for $10 on Saturday nights! My personal favorite, though wife Nancy objects to the bathroom tile decor.

  3. Bill, thanks for your efforts (although, from what I have gathered, this is a major uphill battle).

    We have been longtime patrons of the Garden Cinema and, whenever it closes, it will be a real loss.

    We were living not far from an indie cinema in Orange County, CA that has I believe 8 theaters–all good-sized–and it is thriving. I think the population density near it is greater than here but, still, my wife and I witnessed first-hand how there is indeed demand for lower -budget indie/arthouse films.

  4. Saving a movie cinema nowadays is like petitioning to save trolley tracks. I don’t think I’ve been to the movies in 20 years.

  5. The number of apartments that have gone up in that area over the last few years is unbelievable. The view of them from I95 is mind-boggling when one remembers what it was like before. Too bad that all those new residents aren’t prime reason to keep it that “hidden garden”! – Chris Woods.

  6. Cool!
    Thank you for the article.

  7. For the past 9 years, Westport’s JIB Productions has produced the international short film series SHORT CUTS each Oct/Nov at the Garden Cinemas. The Garden’s management has been generous and supportive of this annual event, NYC directors who have come up to join SHORT CUTS are enamored with the charm of a time almost passed. Loss of the Garden is not just the loss of an independent film venue, but a community anchor for both Westport and Norwalk. SHORT CUTS will find another venue, but it certainly would be preferable for parked cars to find another venue! I will be there tonight at Norwalk City Hall.

  8. Melissa Ceriale

    Hi Nancy! Thank you for going tonight. I’d be there too if in town. Let’s figure out how to bring the Garden to Westport. Now that would be a great addition to our own downtown.

  9. There is blog with tons of articles and commets to scroll through going back years about this Wall Street project. It even more detailed than The Hour newspaper.
    http://Www.nancyonnorwalk.com

  10. Garden Cinema is a gem as I am a big fan of foreign and indie films. When I go to the theater in the evening, I usually have dinner at Pontos Taverna (great Greek food!) beforehand. I would have never discovered Pontos if it had not been for Garden Cinema. It seems a shame that the apartment complex doesn’t see the benefit of having an independent movie theater in its neighborhood. I will be at Norwalk City Hall tonight.

    Dan: Thank you for letting us know about this important development.

  11. Dan, thanks for getting the word out about this. I immediately signed the petition and donated $25 to help save the theater.

  12. Karen Solicito

    The Norwalk cinema is definitely worth saving and also check out the Prospector Theater in Ridgefield which is a non-profit, first run theater dedicated to providing employment opportunities to differently abled adults. Itś not too far, clean, friendly – everything a good local theater should be.

  13. Christine Bisceglie

    The correct email address for the Norwalk Common Council is CommonCouncil3@Norwalkct.gov
    Thank you for your support.
    A Norwalk Resident

    • Christine Bisceglie

      Sorry, That address was incorrect also. Not sure of the correct one. Attended the meeting last night. Good news to the supporters. The vote has been postponed until September and talks are underway with several parties to create an ” Arts Center ” according to Mayor Harry Rilling. There was opportunity for public input last night on the issue. A good turnout with several credentialed folks such as a former NYT reporter and a documentary film maker and playwright Christopher Ward , who used a clear metaphor ” Hollywood films are like candy. They taste good but are not good for us. The films shown at the Garden are like Gourmet Meals. ” I took the rainbow hanging over the Norwalk sky , as a sign of good fortune.

  14. The Community Theatre in Fairfield, which has been closed since 2011, has been leased by Sacred Heart University and will be a center for the arts including, but not limited to, films.

    See — https://dailyvoice.com/connecticut/fairfield/lifestyle/long-shuttered-community-theater-in-downtown-fairfield-to-reopen/768961/

    I do hope the Garden will remain open — too many venues offering cultural programs have closed for more profitable opportunities.

  15. Stephanie B Ross

    FYI- Wall Street Place is planned to be rental apartments not condominiums.

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