Friends of Loew's in Jersey City Hope to Revive Movie Palace as Theatre

News   Friends of Loew's in Jersey City Hope to Revive Movie Palace as Theatre Jersey City has its own palace. Once there was even a knight on guard poised to slay a testy dragon. And it's right across from the PATH station.
Loew's of Jersey City in past days.
Loew's of Jersey City in past days.

Jersey City has its own palace. Once there was even a knight on guard poised to slay a testy dragon. And it's right across from the PATH station.

The above mentioned royal residence of entertainment is the Loew's of Jersey City, New Jersey.True to their name, The Friends of the Loew's who with the Jersey City Economic Development Corporation are working to re-establish the Loew's as a premier non-profit venue. When the theatre is again fully operational, hopes are to present diverse programming from jazz and swing concerts to dramatic plays and independent films. Quite promising for a seventy year old.

Back in the day when 35 cents was more than just a down payment for popcorn, movies were shown in enormous "movie palaces." Each elaborate building was a show in itself. Each was equipped with a full stage and dressing rooms to accommodate the live vaudeville acts that appeared before or after the film.

It was on September 28, 1929, the Loew's opened its doors on Journal Square. It was quickly dubbed "the most lavish temple of entertainment in New Jersey." Beauty and brains combined, the Loew's was a state-of-the-art theatre for its day. It was equipped with an arbor and metal cable, counter-weight rigging system in an 80 foot high rigging loft. Ten pre-set lights shone on a stage with a fifty-foot wide proscenium opening. Its orchestra pit had two elevators, one exclusively for the piano, and it was large enough for 40 musicians.

It's hard to say how big the band was backing Bing Crosby that night in 1933 when he played the Jersey City Loew's. A young Frank Sinatra sat in the audience and set his sights on stardom. All great palaces have legends. The legend of the Jersey City Loew's is still unfolding. "Never doubt a small group of people can move mountains," says Loew's Managing Director Colin Egan. In this position since 1994 and involved with the Friends of the Loew's since 1987, Egan has seen just how much muscle this "small group" has.

Banding together to prevent the scheduled 1987 demolition of the Loew's, a group of preservationists got thousands of signatures on a petition asking the Loew's be preserved. The Jersey City Economic Development Corporation joined the fight and a series of City Council votes backed the preservationists now called Friends of the Loew's. It would be a six-year test of friendship. In 1993 newly elected Mayor Bret Schundler, and the Friends, proposed that Jersey City buy the theatre. On April 5, 1993 the City did just that.

Under the $2.75 million capital project, upgrading is under way of the theatre's sound systems and other basic repairs are being completed. Other than the work done by contractors, the volunteers with the Friends of the Loew's have accomplished well over $1 million worth of construction repairs and improvements. Volunteer efforts have included demolition of non-original walls that had been put up to divide the Loew's auditorium into smaller cinemas, the reactivation of the orchestra pit elevator, and the complete rehabilitation of the projection booth, including the installation of both modern projectors and fully operational vintage VitaPhone projectors. Volunteers are responsible for the complete and ongoing overhaul of the approximately 2,200 seats. All seat backs and cushions were removed, restored and recovered. Each armrest was removed and refurbished. Then all the hinges, knuckles, and screws were taken apart, cleaned of rust, repainted and the seats were whole again.

None of this volunteer work uses any of the City or State funds that have been granted to the Loew's. Private donations provide all volunteer supplies.

One very large donation was made by the Garden State Theatre Organ Society of an organ. Not just any organ, but an exact replica of the organ from the Loew's Jersey City. Taken from its sister theatre, the Loew's Paradise in the Bronx, this "Wonder" Morton organ is expected to be the same focal point as its forerunner.

The theatre's atrium has been in use for screenings of classic 16 millimeter films and even a Halloween ball. The tentative date for a full grand opening of the entire theatre is set for fall of 2000. St. George , who doubles as dragonslayer and timekeeper, will be back on guard in the spring or early summer of next year. By then he, the dragon , and the Seth Thomas clock they are working parts of will be letting you know just how much time till the next show at the Loew's.

To find out more about the Loew's Jersey City restoration and schedule of events call 201-798-6055.

--Anne Bradley