A Historic Pine Plains Theater Celebrates a Cultural Rebirth
After more than 100 years in existence, the former Pine Plains Memorial Hall transforms into the community-minded Stissing Center.
Photos courtesy of The Stissing Center
The year was 1915 when Memorial Hall first came to life in Pine Plains. Constructed in honor of John McIntyre, his wife Elizabeth Hauver, and their children by their philanthropic granddaughter Mary Ellen Lapham Saunders, the space began operations as a community and government center for the town of Pine Plains. An agrarian landscape at the time, Pine Plains benefitted from a center in which to congregate and used it for everything from concerts and dances to clambakes and farewell parties for local soldiers.
As the years passed, Memorial Hall changed with the times. In 1935, it transformed into The Pine Plains Theater, screening first-run Hollywood flicks until the early 1960s. After a short period of vacancy, it found new life in the 1970s as a mixed-use edifice for a coffee shop, hair salon, laundromat, and offices.
Construction at The Stissing Center
By the 1990s, however, the future looked bleak for Pine Plains Memorial Hall. With no one to occupy it, the building succumbed to the effects of time, ultimately becoming too uninhabitable for turnkey operations. When it faced demolition in 2014, however, three local residents banded together to purchase and restore it to its former glory. After founding a nonprofit around it in 2015, a larger Pine Plains committee began what would turn into a four-year process to research, obtain permits, design, and rebuild the community hall.
To say that construction was no walk in the park would be an understatement. When the renovation process began, the building had no infrastructure, no plumbing, no electricity, and no elevator. It was a sorry state for what was once a thriving cultural hub, yet the Pine Plains committee recognized that the history of the space still lingered within its walls. That’s why it chose to construct three key additions to the property — a lobby, an extension in the back, and a porch on the eastern side — instead of overhauling it completely.
Construction inside The Stissing Center
Now, in 2019, the center has come full circle.
Renamed The Stissing Center as an ode to the nearby Stissing Mountain, the venue is ready to welcome the Hudson Valley community through its doors. Designed pro bono by Larson Architecture Works lead architect Doug Larson, who has a home in Stanfordville, the Dutchess County theater embraces its longstanding presence in the region. From the exterior, softly colored brick harmonizes with the glass in the lobby, while cement and steel accents add polish to the silhouette.
“The performing space itself is all Pine Plains,” enthuses Brian Keeler, Executive Director of The Stissing Center, in reference to the raw wood detailing on the floor, benches, and proscenium. “It’s beautiful in a very agrarian, rural kind of way.”
Keeler is excited to welcome Hudson Valleyites to the new and improved building, both to gauge their reactions to the renovation and kick off a stellar lineup of autumn programs. First up is the grand opening surprise party on August 31. A free community event, the fest is a must for curious locals who want to tour the performance space and do a little dancing.
“We’re extraordinarily excited about the opening,” Keeler says. “The space is coming alive and getting its own character.”
Historic detailing inside The Stissing Center / Photo by Jock Pottle
Although the actual performance space is complete, The Stissing Center still requires a few finishing touches before it’s ready for its closeup. Once programming wraps for 2019, the center will close temporarily for an HVAC installation and construction in the back sector of the property. If all goes well, it will reopen in spring 2020.
Already, The Stissing Center promises to be a hub for Hudson Valley residents. On September 7, it starts the season strong with “An Evening with Wynton Marsalis,” a benefit concert with the acclaimed musician that’s already sold out. After that, it honors its roots with a silent screening of “The Phantom of the Opera” with accompanying live music by the New York Theatre Organ Society on September 21. Come October, it will welcome Molsky’s Mountain Drifters, the Bard Conservatory of Music, and Spirit Family Reunion with Mail The Horse as well. Some of the happenings, such as the surprise party and the film screening, are free, while others, like the concerts, require guests to purchase tickets online in advance.
“The community has been amazingly supportive and incredibly curious,” Keeler declares. “I want everyone to be surprised when they walk in.”
The Stissing Center
2590 Church St, Pine Plains