The Loew's Jersey Theatre is a movie palace type theater and live entertainment venue located in Jersey City, New Jersey. Opened in 1929, it was one of the five Loew's Wonder Theatres, a series of flagship Loew's movie palaces in the New York City area. It was designed by the architectural firm of Rapp and Rapp in a Baroque/Rococo style. Tri-plexed in 1974, and then closed in 1986, it was dark for years. It was purchased by the city in 1993 and been operated by a volunteer organisation, the Friends of the Loews, since that time. The theater was designated as a New Jersey Registered Historic Site in 2009. In a move opposed by Friends of the Loews, the city in June 2014, agreed to let AEG Live operate the venue. After going to court, the lease by Friends of the Loews remains in effect.
The Loew's Jersey opened September 28, 1929. It was one of five "Loew's Wonder Theatres" that opened in 1929 and 1930 in the New York City area. Journal Square, a neighborhood in Jersey City, New Jersey, was a popular entertainment and shopping destination. In addition to the Loew's Jersey, two other entertainment theatres were present in Journal Square: the State Theatre and the Stanley Theatre.
The theatre was built on land purchased from the Pennsylvania Railroad and located on a main commercial avenue that ran the full length of Hudson County, New Jersey from Bayonne, New Jersey at one end through to Union City, New Jersey. Journal Square also served as a terminus for many Public Service Railway trolley and bus lines. And the Hudson and Manhattan Railroad, now known as the Port Authority Trans-Hudson or PATH, has a major station at Journal Square with lines to New York City, Hoboken, New Jersey and Newark, New Jersey.
The cost of construction in 1929 was US$2 million. The capacity of the theatre on opening day was 3,021 patrons. The theatre opened with the film Madame X, a live musical performance by Ben Black and his Rhythm Kings and the Loew's Symphony Orchestra. Tickets to view the movie plus live performances were $0.35. Additionally, the theatre was equipped with a 4 manual/23 rank Robert Morton "Wonder Morton" pipe organ.
The theatre was built with the intention of presenting both live performances and films. The stage of the theatre was equipped with a full counterweighted fly system with the 50'-0" wide screen rigged to be flown in and out. In front of the stage, a three segment orchestra pit was installed. One segment, on left side of the pit as viewed from the audience, contained the pipe organ console. The organ lift could rise independently and rotate. The remaining width of the orchestra pit could also raise, lifting the orchestra up to the stage level. The third segment was an integrated piano lift in the center of the orchestra lift that could either rise independently or with the orchestra lift.
The theatre was equipped with a stage lighting system that controlled a system of lighting fixtures and units on the stage and in the auditorium.
Beneath the stage, two levels of dressing rooms, along with a trap room and rehearsal hall were provided.
The auditorium was laid out with approximately 1,900 seats on a sloping ground floor, divided into sections by aisles running from the entrance of the auditorium to the stage. An additional 1,200 seats were placed on a steeply sloped balcony.
The lobby of the theatre was built as a three story oval with restroom facilities on the second level. Both the Ladies' and Men's restroom featured elaborate decoration and additional spaces for makeup application and socialization. The lobby also possessed a grand chandelier and a promenade.
The exterior of the theatre was dressed with terra cotta tiles and large marquees. A large vertical sign announcing the theatre's name rose on the righthand tower of the building's face and a marquee with interchangeable lettering was installed over the entrance.
At the apex of the front facade of the building, a Seth Thomas animated clock was installed. The clock featured a white faced clock that was illuminated from behind with a statue of Saint George and a statue of a dragon. On the quarter-hour, the clock would chime and the statues would perform. The dragon was equipped with red light bulbs in its mouth to represent fire and the statue of Saint George would be tilted by a motor toward the dragon, simulating a spear lunge.
The theatre was added to the New Jersey Register of Historic Places on August 15, 1985. It also received a Determination of Eligibility from the National Register of Historic Places on October 17, 1985 but was not listed due to an objection by the owner.
In 1974, the Loew's Corporation had the theatre subdivided into three smaller theatres.
Two theatres were created on the ground floor by erecting a wall in the center aisle of the auditorium that extended from the entrance from the lobby to just beyond the end of the balcony. Walls were constructed across the width of the auditorium connecting the dividing center wall to the auditorium's outer walls. Within these new theatres, projection booths were built. The third theatre was created by having patrons sit in the balcony and watch a movie projected on the original screen of the theatre using the original projection booth. In an effort to reduce cleaning efforts and expenses, the seating on the ground floor that was no longer accessible to patrons was removed and disposed of. The pipe organ was also removed from the theatre.
The theatre closed in August 1986. The final film shown was Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives. The Loew's Corporation sold the theatre to Hartz Mountain, who announced plans to demolish the theatre and build a new structure on the site. Preservationists began a campaign to save the structure and succeeded in saving the building from demolition. The theatre was subsequently sold to the city of Jersey City, the current owner.
The theatre remained closed from 1986 through to 1996 while the preservation efforts occurred. During that time, the building suffered some vandalism and some objects of value were removed. Also, due to the lack of maintenance, heating, humidity control, water and electrical services during that period, mechanical systems, paint surfaces and other vulnerable finishes deteriorated. Volunteers began restoration of the theatre once it had been acquired by the city of Jersey City, to prevent it from being demolished. The volunteers removed the partitions that divided the auditorium into three theatres and restored mechanical systems. They also rehabilitated and installed projection equipment, allowing the theatre to once again present films. Other efforts restored the on stage systems, repairing the original lighting system, fly system and dressing rooms. Volunteers also restored the seating of the auditorium.
The Garden State Theatre Organ Society acquired a sister pipe organ to the missing Loew's Jersey pipe organ, originally installed at the Loew's Paradise theatre, and began the installation and restoration of the organ. A video of the organ being played on November 3, 2007, is available on YouTube.
The Loew's Jersey is equipped to present 35 mm films in their original 1.33:1, 1.37:1, 1.85:1 and 2.39:1 aspect ratios with adjustable horizontal and vertical masking on its 50-foot-wide screen. Films are projected using Ashcraft Super Core-Lite carbon-arc lamphouses and modified Norelco (Kinoton) FP-20 projectors.
Work is currently underway to install 70 mm projection equipment, as well as Dolby Digital, DTS, and six-track magnetic sound.
Volunteers continue to be the primary force in the restoration of the Loew's Jersey. Volunteers come from throughout the New York and Northern New Jersey metro area. Some volunteers bring experience from the film or theatrical industries but the vast majority of volunteers are individuals without prior experience in restoring or operating a performance venue. Their efforts, in performing duties such as painting, cleaning, preparing and selling concessions or serving as house staff for events, allow the theatre to operate successfully.
The theatre holds an "open door" volunteer work call most Saturdays from 10 am to 6 pm year round. Volunteers and individuals interested in volunteering are welcome to drop in and participate.
As of 2007, the Loew's Jersey presents a wide range of programming. This includes film weekends, generally one weekend per month from September through June, where approximately three classic films gathered around a common theme are presented. Often, speakers or performers from the films are presented before the movie. The Loew's Jersey does not show films in current release.
Other events currently presented at the Loew's Jersey include performances of Gilbert and Sullivan operas, Jersey City sponsored events, touring productions (such as Nickelodeon's Jamorama, a live show for children) and live performances by musicians and bands such as Beck and The Decemberists.
Additionally, the Loew's Jersey is a popular venue for film and photography shoots. The lobby of the Loew's Jersey was the disco in the film The Last Days of Disco and was featured in a 2007 Geico commercial featuring their gecko character. The theatre has appeared in two A&E specials and numerous magazines as a backdrop for brides and other fashions.
In February 2011 the band The Strokes shot a music video for the single "Under Cover of Darkness" off of their 2011 album Angles at the Loew's Jersey Theatre, featuring the main lobby, promenade and stage. The Trans-Siberia Orchestra filmed "The Ghosts of Christmas Eve" in the Loew's Jersey.
The Loew's is principal venue for the Golden Door Film Festival.
The theater is also a popular venue for fundraising, corporate events, and weddings.
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