Memorial Hall, the original name of our building, was constructed in 1915 and given to the Town of Pine Plains in memory of John McIntyre, his wife Elizabeth Hauver and their children, by their philanthropic granddaughter, Mary Ellen Lapham Saunders who grew up in Pine Plains with her grandparents. For the better part of the 20th century, Pine Plains was defined by the cultural events and happenings at Memorial Hall.
The majestic brick building on Church street stood tall and proud as a symbol of the town’s important place in the region. According to the original certificate of incorporation, Memorial Hall was, among its many uses…
“…to be used for the purpose of lodge meetings, lectures, concerts, banquets, fairs, celebrations, play, entertainments” and “public and private meetings of any kind permitted by law, and for public libraries, reading rooms, gymnasiums and for the filing and storing and keeping of the records and papers and property of the Town of Pine Plains…and for any purposed deemed beneficial for the public.”
It was well used for dances and clambakes, movies, concerts, minstrel shows, theatre, square dances, and even periodically to send soldiers off to war and to receive them home after their service. In 1935 it was remodeled and reopened as “The Pine Plains Theatre”, where it became a first-run movie house showing Hollywood films until the early 1960’s. Sold again in the 1970’s and subdivided for use by a coffee shop, hair salon, laundromat, and offices, the hall again fell into disuse and disrepair in the 1990’s.
More than a century after its construction, and in order to save the building from demolition, Memorial Hall was purchased in 2014 at auction by a group of three local supporters. Their goal was for it to be restored and returned it to its original purpose, as the hub of the regional community and a beacon of cultural vibrance and civic pride. It was donated in 2015 to the recently established Pine Plains Memorial Hall, Inc., a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.
In May, 2019, Memorial Hall was renamed The Stissing Center. We celebrated the opening of our doors in late summer 2019 with a Construction Concert Series, featuring a benefit concert with Wynton Marsalis and a Grand Opening “Surprise Party.” With these events, The Stissing Center began to define its place as the center of artistic and cultural life in Pine Plains and Northern Dutchess County.
2020 started off with enthusiastic and exciting promise. After nearly five years of comprehensive feasibility studies, designing, and renovations, The Stissing Center was nearing completion of Phase One of our construction plan. Our first full Spring Season was scheduled, and Fall was in the works.
Then, in mid-March, just days away from announcing our Spring lineup, COVID changed everything. Like every other arts organization, and like everyone else, we faced uncertainty. What we did know was with the development of New York’s strict guidelines to flatten the curve, we would not have a Spring season after all. We announced its cancellation just days before we were to announce its schedule. And, we stopped all renovation work on the building until we were given the all clear to continue.
We came up with a Plan B. We created virtual programming, The Chair Series and LIVE! from The Stissing Center! Our newest undertaking is the Stissing Summer Variety Show, A virtual benefit for The Stissing Center. Premiering on August 29, it will remain available on our website for months to come.
As a Board Member described it, the Variety Show “is more than a string of great performances. It’s also an inspiring portrait of The Stissing Center itself, and offers a compelling vision for its future.” If you have not already done so, we ask you to watch it. Please consider making a generous donation here on our website. Or by mail, to The Stissing Center, PO Box 1024, Pine Plains, NY 12567.
We want to be ready to celebrate with you when we get to the other side of COVID. We are raising funds to complete our HVAC installation project this year, so we will be able to provide programming throughout the year. We are also creating a second performance space, The Cellar at the Center, where we’ll be able to host more intimate gatherings, meetings, films, and events. There’s also more to do in the performance space, The Main Stage at the Center. We need house lighting and a full size movie screen, and there’s more to be done with the old windows. The gifts you give in response to our virtual series will go to this, and to provide for our operations, performances, and ongoing renovations.
The next project will be creation of a community kitchen downstairs. We are also looking to build a permanent rear addition to house our HVAC, a stage elevator with access to all floors of the building, dressing rooms, and rear access to and from our parking lot. The third floor, a huge space up above the Main Stage area will be home to workshop and gallery space, classrooms, and non-profit incubator space. There’s still MUCH TO DO.
With the continued support of the local community, our generous donors, sponsors, and patrons, The Stissing Center will be able to achieve its goals of local economic revitalization and job creation while providing space for many of the uses outlined in the original 1915 certificate of incorporation; all in service of the people of Dutchess, Columbia, and Ulster counties and the entire Hudson Valley region.