Picture House, saved by locals from wrecking ball in 2003, celebrates centennial in Pelham—and Bronxville


Courtesy GTL Construction LLC

The Picture House’s main auditorium after a 2011 renovation.

The Picture House in Pelham, one of the town’s cultural centerpieces, was almost demolished to put up a bank.

The theater opened on Sept. 10, 1921 with silent films playing. It was owned by the Rogowsky family for decades right up until the beginning of the new millenium.

Arthur Scinta, former Village of Pelham mayor and now Pelham Town Historian, was mayor when a member of the Rogowsky family told him about the idea to tear down the theater for a bank.

“My heart stopped,” Scinta said. “I said, ‘Mr. Rogowsky, this town feels passionately about the Picture House, and there’s no way the community could support the building being torn down.”

About a year earlier, Pelham resident Victoria Klein had proposed to Scinta the idea of turning the Picture House into a film arts center. She talked to the managers and they were interested.

Scinta organized a meeting between Klein and the Rogowskys. The plan was for the Pelham Picture House Preservation (now the Picture House Regional Film Center) to buy it. Fund were raised and the cinema was sold to the preservation group in 2003.

The Picture House Regional Film Center has grown since those first steps, adding educational programs for children and adults, a film club, viewing sessions with actress Hayley Atwell and—in the biggest expansion of all—opening Picture House Bronxville in a former Bow-Tie Cinema with three screening rooms. The Bow-Tie was also built in the 1920s.

The Picture House honored its Covid-19 delayed centennial on March 11 with a gala dinner at Glen Island were awards were given. The addition of the Bronxville location was also celebrated.

“It’s always been very much a center of community life in Pelham,” Scinta said. “There were lots of ways the theater has been involved in the community over the years.”

For example, according to Scinta, during World War II, children would watch cartoons in the theater on Saturday mornings while their fathers were away at war and their mothers were helping with the war effort.

The Pelham Picture House is open 364 days a year and shows movies daily.

According to Executive Director Laura DeBuys, the film center plans to expand its programming in the coming years, with film festivals and new community programs and cultural events.

DeBuys said increasing the educational efforts is especially important because “I think it’s a really important time for students to learn about film and how to tell their stories through film.”

“I came to the Picture House in 2014 because I thought it was an exciting opportunity,” said DeBuys. “The theater was saved by the community and has a very distinct role in the cultural life of Westchester and in what it contributes to the quality of life in Westchester. We’ve been growing it through these years, and it enjoys a huge amount of community support, and we feel we do exciting and important programming that has an impact on the lives of Pelham citizens.”

“It’s always been a part of the community’s soul,” Scinta said.