It was 2010 and LTV archivist Genie Henderson was tired of watching an old, clunky, black film canister collect dust in her East Hampton office.
On a whim, she sent it out to be digitized.
“We were just winging it,” Ms. Henderson said last week during a telephone interview. “Imagine our surprise when we got it back and realized we’d stumbled across the oldest film in our archives—1927 to the 1930s. And it is fabulous.”
Its origins begin with 20th century illustrator Hamilton King, the man behind the “Hamilton King girls” that graced the covers of Theatre magazine and Woman’s Home Companion, Coca-Cola advertisements, post cards, sheet music and, most famously, Turkish Trophies cigarette cards.
He also owned a summer home in East Hampton and fostered a penchant for amateur filmmaking, according to Ms. Henderson.
The illustrator often wandered East Hampton Village with his camera, capturing the social elite at house parties or bathing on the beach, as well as filming everyday local happenings: a whale launch, the construction of Guild Hall, opening Georgica Gut with horse-drawn sleds, harvesting hay in Springs and firefighters battling the Maidstone Inn blaze of 1935.
“The best thing is, you see something called ‘Village Vanities, 1927,’” Ms. Henderson said of the footage. “We can’t quite figure out what it is. There’s someone riding a camel. There’s women on top of white horses, like at the circus. We’re hoping people can give us some insight.”
On Thursday, October 10, LTV will premiere the 30-minute film, which was edited down from 55 minutes of original footage cut together in the 1970s by the television studio’s founder Frazier Dougherty, who then gifted it to the East Hampton Historical Society before it was returned to LTV five years ago.
“This film just disappeared. It may or may not have been shown as a film in the ’30s, we don’t know,” Ms. Henderson said. “We just trimmed it up a little bit. A lot of it was bathing beauties at Devon Yacht Club over and over and over. To the point where it was, like, enough already.”
Each scene plays between two and three minutes before moving to the next, showing East Hampton as it once was. And even though the village has changed in many ways, it is eerily similar, the archivist said.
“Main Street looks like Main Street. And the houses look like the houses. And the pond looks like the pond,” Ms. Henderson said. “East Hampton is a village that maintains its historic look. It’s there in 1927 and it’s here now.”
The same cannot be said of some areas outside of the village, according to architect Robert Strada, chairman of the LTV board who will moderate the panel discussion ironically titled “Preservation: Have We Gone Too Far?” along with East Hampton Town Board candidates, who will tackle a series of issues following the screening.
“That discussion is not just going to be reading canned speeches,” Mr. Strada explained last week during a telephone interview. “It’s really going to be answering questions that I’ve been gathering from people in the community. Truth is, these aren’t just my questions, but questions that are being posed by people who want to hear the answers before they vote.”
While making the rounds, Mr. Strada has heard the same question from two groups of people: the families that have lived on the East End for generations and those starting off the generations to come.
And the question is, “What are you doing to prove that East Hampton will be like this not just for my children, but for my grandchildren? What are you doing to preserve not just the land, but the build environment that has gone into making our community as special as it is?” Mr. Strada said.
It’s all about preserving East Hampton’s history, he reported.
“While this is going to be an interesting event just to have the film, I hope this is the catalyst to open this discussion up,” Mr. Strada said. “I hope this is the beginning.”
LTV and the East Hampton Historical Society will screen the archival film “East Hampton in the ’20s & ’30s” on Thursday, October 10, at 5 p.m. at LTV in East Hampton. A wine reception and the discussion “Preservation: Have We Gone Too Far?” with Town Board candidates will follow until 7 p.m. Admission is free. For more information, call 537-2777 or visit ltveh.org.