It’s hard to define the Landmark. After all, how do you define a historic building that’s not only an arts destination, but an education hub, recreation center, housing complex and essential part of Port Washington’s landscape?
The Landmark is all this and more, serving as Port Washington’s nucleus for the past 20 years. On any given weekday, more than 600 members of the community come through the Landmark’s doors to learn, play, explore and celebrate. Home to a variety of community organizations, state-of-the-art theater, multi-use gym and 59 senior housing units, the repurposed school is a Port Washington gem that has met the needs—and wants—of its community.
“This building really is a lot of different things. If you ask 50 people what the Landmark means to them, you’ll get 50 answers,” says Laura Mogul, executive director of the Landmark. “This building has become a place where the community can expect to explore and listen and see and grow. It’s a lot of different spaces but it’s so much more than the sum of the parts.”
One of the Landmark’s most popular spaces is the 425-seat Jeanne Rimsky Theater, which draws world-class musicians, dancers, comedians and actors to its stage 35 to 40 times a year, as well as a variety of regularly scheduled senior and children’s programs. It’s a venue that Mogul describes as “electric.”
“We always deliver such a great show. We’ve had some incredible acts over the year and we’ve also donated the theater for the community to use,” Mogul says, noting that community theater groups, dance troupes, local music and theater schools all have the benefit of using the professional-quality stage. “It’s a world class intimate venue for top performers. We get big names and you sit so close you can see them sweat.”
The venue has hosted sold-out performances for Broadway and cabaret stars such as Kelli O’Hara, Adam Pascal and Sutton Foster, as well as boasting a musical roster that includes icons like The Bacon Brothers, Judy Collins, The Smithereens, Loudon Wainwright III and many more. Another reoccurring event in the theater is “Conversations from Main Street,” a free speaker series featuring business leaders, authors, educators, celebrities and sports figures on important current events.
Among the list of celebrated guest speakers is author Nelson DeMille, award-winning Broadway composer Jeanine Tesori, actor Gilbert Gottfried and then-New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo.
But there’s more to the Landmark than the theater. The historic building is also home to the Port Washington Children’s Center, Port Washington Parent Resource Center and Port Washington Youth Council’s Teen Center. These three nonprofit organizations provide valuable services to children of all ages and their families in Port Washington by offering child care, educational workshops, classes, recreation and more.
While the organizations all function independently, Mogul says that during the past 20 years, she’s seen every one grow.
“Every program has been able to grow and flower,” Mogul says. “Having this space exist has given all these organizations a comfortable place to grow off of.”
Saving An Icon
The building at 232 Main Street has always been a Port icon, serving for 87 years as Main Street School. However, its fate hit uncertain times when in 1984, the board of education announced that it would be closing the school and putting the building up to bid. Fearing the historic site would be knocked down for high-rise apartments, Port Washington’s Lillian McCormick led a group of residents to petition the board to repurpose the building for senior housing.
“I knew there were a lot of people who had come here and brought their family up here, but had to leave because they didn’t have the money to stay,” McCormick says. “I started this whole thing for affordable housing and organized a community group that was powerful.”
At the same time, fellow Port resident Barbara Goldstein was heading up a group of residents who wanted the building become a teen center with recreational and cultural opportunities for children. McCormick and Goldstein’s groups teamed up, and after a long, arduous campaign that spanned more than seven years, the Town of North Hempstead agreed to give the Landmark back to the community.
Through a capital campaign, donations from local philanthropists and funding from all levels of government, Landmark leaders were able to raise $12 million for the center’s acquisition and renovation. Construction began in 1994, and in November 1995, the Landmark on Main Street opened.
“We raised the flag on a Sunday afternoon, indicating that our wonderful Main Street School was back in commission,” McCormick recalls. “There were tears in our eyes, because we knew we had won and that the school was going to be given back to the community for the usage it’s in today.”
The Fight to a Bright Future
As it crosses the 20-year mark, the Landmark continues to look to the future. The exterior is undergoing a complete renovation, a massive project that includes a new roof and windows for the entire building, as well as new brick work and pointing.
The apartments will be getting new bathrooms and kitchen upgrades. The Landmark is also hoping to expand its reach. While most of the theater’s patronage comes from Port Washington and Manhasset, there has been an increase in people from other areas as the venue’s reputation grows.
“Every year we expand outwards more. We’re seeing people from Queens, or who are following their favorite act,” Mogul says. “It makes Port Washington a tourist destination. They come here for a show, but stay for dinner or something. It’s growing.”
But, most importantly, Mogul says that the Landmark is going to continue doing what it does best—serve and entertain the Port Washington community.
“Our reputation is going to continue to grow and people are going to want to come here,” Mogul says. “We want to grow our audience beyond our community, but we want to talk to the community about what they want to see. We always want to make sure what we do here is what our community wants to see. We’ll just keep doing more of the same and doing it better.”