Vinegar Hill: Building goes on the block
First the what's-playing sign was missing from the side of Vinegar Hill Theatre. Then a for-sale sign appeared, leaving loyal moviegoers wondering if their favorite cinema house was threatened again. The two events are not related– the movie sign blew down– and the theater is still open, but the building that houses it and Camino restaurant is on the block for $1.2 million.
When Ann Porotti and then-husband Chief Gordon purchased what would become Vinegar Hill Theatre in 1973, it was owned by Symington Garage and housed a motorcycle showroom, says Porotti.
Gordon had a vision, and by Valentine's Day 1976, Charlottesville had its first foreign film/classic American cinema.
In 2005, Porotti tried to sell the Market Street building, which by then also included a restaurant she'd added. That didn't happen, and in 2008 after the Virginia Film Festival, she announced Vinegar Hill was closing. That's when Adam Greenbaum, owner of the Visulite in Staunton, swooped in and took took over running the theater.
Porotti is blunt about why she wants to unload the Charlottesville landmark: "I'm almost 70. It's time to not be a landlord."
The 4,100-square-foot-building on .14 acre has already attracted quite a bit of interest in the week or so since the for-sale sign went up, says Bob Headrick with Nest Realty.
"A handful of people have looked at it," he says. "Everyone, so far, wants the theater to remain. The restaurant– one person wanted to incorporate it into the theater with a bar and restaurant."
Greenbaum, who just plunked down $60,000 to convert to digital screenings, is not alarmed that the building is for sale. "I'm actually optimistic," he says. "A lot of people are nostalgic for that theater," he adds, pointing to the community support from all the people who bought the merch Vinegar Hill sold to raise money for the digital system.
"It would be a huge loss for me," says Alexandria Searls, who ran the Vinegar Hill Film Festival, which showcased local film, for seven years.
"I'm not a fan of multiplexes, which I don't find to be community theaters," she says. "What's special about Vinegar Hill is it is just one screen, and it's a community theater."
"We'd lose a certain kind of film that's more independent, more under the radar," says long-time fan Carroll Trainum. And if Vinegar Hill closed, the Virginia Film Festival would lose a venue, he adds.
One person is not at all nostalgic about the theater: Ann Porotti. "I put in two heating systems in the last three years," she says. "No nostalgia."
She has her own take on the sign falling down: "The building has said, I am tired of being a theater," she suggests.
Much as her ex did 40 years ago, "I'd like someone to say, I have an idea," says Porotti.