The City of Bainbridge Island’s First Mayor and Long-Time Local Businessman Sam Granato Passes Away

Long-time Bainbridge businessman and the City’s first Mayor, Sam J. Granato, passed away recently at the age of 87 after suffering from congestive heart failure. Granato was co-owner of the Historic Lynwood Theatre and later Bainbridge Cinemas, and was the island’s Mayor when residents voted in 1991 to incorporate Bainbridge into its own city.

Sam Granato image courtesy of The Granato Family
Sam Granato image courtesy of The Granato Family

“Sam loved the movie business and was the consummate showman,” recalls Jeff Brien, his decades-long business partner. “(He brought) Bainbridge popular new and classic films and countless special events and screenings that benefited Island non-profits as well as live entertainment, fascinating speakers and authors and annual film festivals showcasing the talents of not only local Hollywood professionals but aspiring producers, directors and actors.”

Granato was President of Bainbridge Entertainment Enterprises (parent company of the Historic Lynwood Theater, which he purchased in 1982, and Bainbridge Cinemas). In 1997 he and Brien began their years-long partnership by developing The Pavilion shopping mall on Madison Avenue in Downtown Winslow and launching Bainbridge Cinemas, located in the same space. They also built and co-operated a similar project in Stanwood, WA., including the five-screen Stanwood Cinemas. Granato remained active in the business “up until the day he passed away,” says Brien.

Bainbridge Cinemas - Photo credit Kevin Dwyer“In all the years we were partners,” Brien adds, “we never had an argument or a disagreement about the business. He was always amicable and pleasant. He understood politics and how to negotiate with people. I would sometimes get mad about something, and he would always say, ‘don’t worry it will work itself out.’ And it always did. He was a great business partner.”

Besides being a movie buff and renowned politician, Granato was also a noted llama enthusiast, and residents would often see parts of his herd grazing near his homestead on Ferncliff Avenue. The historic house on the property, in which he and his family lived – tucked away on a hill behind some large trees – was originally built by the Weyerhauser Family in the early 1900s.

In 1990, as the newly elected Mayor of the then City of Winslow, which comprised a small portion of the greater Downtown district, Granato endorsed a citizen-initiated resolution to annex unincorporated Bainbridge Island, which was then part of Kitsap County. The measure passed overwhelmingly in 1991. As the city of Bainbridge Island’s first mayor, Granato led initiatives to strengthen the new city, “with an emphasis on inclusive community engagement and outreach.”

A second-generation Italian American and a native of San Antonio, TX, Granato began his career in social service administration for the state of Texas after receiving his bachelor’s and master’s, with honors, from the University of Texas at Austin. In the late ’50s and early ’60s, Granato led the expansion of child and family services into rural areas of west Texas.

Lynwood Theatre“His commitment to, and success at, re-thinking social programs to better reach underserved communities,” his family remembers, eventually landed him a role in the Johnson administration in Washington, D.C. There, Granato played a key leadership role in designing and “operationalizing” the national Head Start Program, a pioneering family and community-centered approach to comprehensive early childhood development for low-income families.

Granato went on to lead family service programs for multiple states, including Oregon, Alaska, and Washington, before settling on Bainbridge in 1978 with his wife and fellow advocate for children and families, Sharon Osborne. Sam and Sharon were married in 1974 and would have celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in August of this year.

A man of many hats, Granato was well known to Islanders as a businessman and community leader. His two most noteworthy ventures were the 1980 establishment of Pheasant Run Llamas—one of Washington’s first commercial llama farms, which served as a wholesome memory for many Island youth who often fed apples to the llamas on their way to the ferry—and his aforementioned 1982 purchase of the beloved Historic Lynwood Theater.  He also served in various local and regional volunteer positions, including as Board Member and Chair of Bainbridge Performing Arts, Board Member of the Bainbridge Island Chamber of Commerce and Board Chair of the International Llama Association.

Granato loved to travel the world with both family and friends, keeping a table of mementos collected along the way to remember each of his grand adventures, including particularly memorable trips to China, Egypt, Tanzania, and the Middle East. According to his family, he was also, notably, a 45-year Seattle Seahawks season ticket holder; a voracious reader (often raising his head hundreds of pages into a book to comment that he just realized he had already read it); a long-time supporter of HIV/AIDS research and support organizations; a loyal consumer of “the worst Hallmark movies known to man”; and a dedicated amateur genealogist, taking great pride in his Italian heritage and extended family.

Perhaps most importantly, Granato was a father of seven, a grandfather of five, and as of October 2023, very proudly donned the moniker of great grandfather. For 45 years, from ages 22 to 67, Granato was father to a child under the age of 18.

“Many hats indeed,” his family recalls, “but the dad hat, he wore the longest and most proudly.”

Granato is survived by his wife, Sharon Osborne; his brother, Joe Granato; six children, Tracy, Tammie, Rebecca, Steven, Jamie, and Adam; five grandchildren, Kyle, Caitlin, Manu, McKenna, and Evan; and his great granddaughter, Laua’e. He is predeceased by his eldest son, Bret Marshall Granato.

A private memorial will be held this spring at Pheasant Run Llamas, followed by a public viewing of one of Sam’s favorite movies (“we promise not one of the Hallmark ones”) in his honor on Saturday, March 30 at the Lynwood Theater.

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