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)