The Ritz Theatre in Carteret, New Jersey originally opened on September 1, 1927. According to an article in “The Carteret Press,” which ran the the week before the opening, “it [was] the first modern theater to be erected in the borough and is up-to-date in every respect.” The 1,000 to 1,200 seat Ritz (accounts on the number of seats differ) was designed by local architect John Gliva. It was a vaudeville and silent film house until September 1928, when a Western Electric sound apparatus was installed to allow for the showing of “talkie” films.
The theater closed on January 31, 1965, and the building was converted into a sewing factory. However, during the conversion the building was not gutted — instead, walls were built inside the auditorium, which covered and protected the ornate plasterwork. After the bakery that had been occupying the building since the 1980’s closed in 2013, the borough of Carteret took possession and discovered the protected auditorium behind the interior walls.
Carteret planned to restore and expand the Ritz into a 1,600 seat performing arts center and movie theater. In 2015, the borough received a $6 million grant from the Middlesex County Cultural and Arts Trust Fund to be used for the new performing arts center. However, a structural survey conducted during the planning stages revealed that the cost of restoring the existing structure would be cost prohibitive and the theater was demolished in early August 2017. The opening of the Carteret Performing Arts Center is planned for 2018, and will host live music and cultural events, off-broadway plays and comedy acts. A portion of the new building will honor the original Ritz Theatre.
Thank you to everyone who came to the lecture/launch party for the book at the Somerville Theatre in Somerville, MA! There are plans for similar events in New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, and even London. Details for those will be released soon. If you’d like me to come speak at your local theater or bookstore let me know!
The blog will return to regular updates on Monday November 21 with the Ritz Theatre in Carteret, NJ. Here’s a sneak peek at some theaters I recently photographed to tide you over until then.
Hi Everyone – I’ll be speaking about my upcoming book, After the Final Curtain: The Fall of the American Movie Theater, at the Somerville Theatre in Somerville, Massachusetts on November 13 at 6:30 PM.
The State Theatre in Stoughton, Massachusetts opened on December 8, 1927. It was built on the site of Atwood’s Market, a local shopping center that was destroyed by a fire earlier that year. The Interstate Theatre Corporation purchased the lot and hired the Boston architecture firm of Funk and Wilcox, who were mostly known for designing apartment buildings, to design the theater. John P. Curley, a Boston contractor, constructed the 1,100 seat atmospheric theater for $100,000, or $1.4 million when adjusted for inflation.
The opening day kicked off with a performance by Ed Andrews and his Nautical Garden Orchestra, followed by “Revue Les Arts,” a vaudeville comedy review. The main attraction was a showing of the silent film “Smile, Brother, Smile,” starring Jack Mulhall, Dorothy Mackaill and E.J. Ratcliffe. A newsreel and two other vaudeville acts capped off the festivities. John Kenne, the State’s organist, played the Estey Pipe Organ throughout the day.
By 1940, the theater was renamed the Interstate State Theatre, and had been converted into a talking motion picture house. The nearby Stoughton High School held class plays and graduations at the State. The theater was modernized in 1970 — the box seats and some of the atmospheric ornamentation in the auditorium were removed and covered with red drapes, and modern seats were installed on the orchestra level. The theater then became the Stoughton Cinema.
By the 1990s the theater had been renamed once again and was known as the Stoughton Cinema Pub, a second run movie house that served beer. The theater closed just six days short of its 80th birthday on December 2, 2007. The final production was a live performance of “A Christmas Carol“ by local theater troupe The Little Theatre of Stoughton, who had been performing at the theater since 1999. According to Mike Harmen, the manager at the time of the theater’s closing, it cost close to $3,000 a month to heat the auditorium in the winter, and it was the cost of utilities that caused the theater to close.
The Friends of the State Theatre was formed shortly after the theater closed, intending to restore and reopen the theater as a performing arts center. To that end, they have signed a 20-year lease and were awarded non-profit status in February 2013. They have received grants from the town of Stoughton and the state of Massachusetts, and around $700,000 in donations from private donors and businesses. The Friends aim to raise between $2.5 and $3 million to restore the theater.
I just received copies of my upcoming book, After the Final Curtain: The Fall of the American Movie Theater! I can’t wait for all of you to see it. It comes out this November and is available for pre-order on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and manyother bookstores.
I’ll be announcing some live events as we get closer to the book’s release date. Stay tuned!
Post 3 in the SnapshotSeries – Occasionally in my travels I come across a theater that I can’t find a lot of information on, or that I only have a chance to photograph for an hour or two. They’re still beautiful and fascinating, so they definitely have a place on After the Final Curtain.
Originally billed as the “Pride of the East Side,” the Hollywood Theatre, located in the East Village neighborhood of Manhattan, opened on March, 11 1926. It was operated by the Mayer and Schneider (M&S) Circuit, and designed by architect Harrison G. Wiseman, who is also known for the nearby Village East Cinemas. According to an account in the Motion Picture News, the crowd on opening night was so large that the police had to cordon the entrance prevent them from storming the theater. The opening was attended by a number of that era’s stars of stage and screen including; George Walsh, Wally Van, Julia Faye, and Edna Purviance.
The 1,303 seat theater was later managed by RKO and Loew’s Inc. before closing in 1959. After the theater closed, the orchestra level of the auditorium and the lobby were converted into separate retail spaces. The former orchestra level became a series of grocery stores, beginning with a Pioneer Supermarket in 1960. In early 2012, it was announced that the East Farms Supermarket, the latest tenant to occupy the space, would close and the building would be demolished to make way for an eight-story condo building with retail space on the main floor. Demolition began in 2014, and the new building is scheduled to open in the winter of 2016.
Originally known as the Alician Court Theatre, the Fox Theatre in Fullerton, California opened on May 28, 1925. Raymond Kennedy of the Meyer & Holler Architectural firm was commissioned by C. Stanley Chapman to design the theater. Meyer & Holler are also known for designing Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. The 1,095 seat Fox was designed in the Italian Renaissance architectural style and had six large California-themed murals – painted by Anthony Heinsbergen – on the auditorium walls. It cost $300,000 to build the theater in 1925, which is $4,082,000 when adjusted for inflation. The complex also included retail spaces, one of which was originally occupied by a tea room run by Alice Chapman, the owner’s wife.
Like most theaters at the time, the Fox was built to be a vaudeville and silent movie theater. The Fox opened with a showing of Luna-cy!, an early 3D film, and Dick Turpin starring Tom Mix as the feature presentation.Julius Johnson accompanied the films on the Marr and Colton Concert Organ, Conductor Bayard Fallas led the orchestra and J. Charles Thamer served as the Master of Ceremonies.
Four years later in 1929, “talkies,” or motion pictures with sound, were becoming more and more prevalent. New sound equipment was installed for $35,000 to allow the theater to show Movietone News, Photophone and Vitaphone, which were the three major types of talking films at the time. On February 17, 1929, Give and Take, starring Jean Hersholt and George Sidney, was the first talking motion picture shown at the Fox. The following year even more upgrades were installed including a larger screen, more new sound equipment and a new marquee. Doughboys, starring Buster Keaton, was shown at the grand reopening in 1929.
The Fox went through a number of name changes through the years. It opened as the Alician Court Theatre, then became the Mission Court Theatre, Universal Mission Court Theatre, Fox Mission Theatre and finally the Fox Fullerton Theatre, which it remains today. A number of celebrities made personal appearances at the Fox to promote their films, including Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Janet Gaynor, Dolores Del Rio, Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney and Jayne Mansfield. The Fox was modernized again in 1955 with the installation of a Cinemascope screen. The Cinemascope screen ran from wall-to-wall, and some of the decorative plasterwork surrounding the stage had to be removed to accommodate it. In 1962, the National General Corporation took over the theater, and had the murals in the auditorium painted over.
After a showing of Angel Heartstarring Mickey Rourke, The Fox closed in 1987 and remained dark for almost twenty years. It was scheduled to be demolished in 2004 to make way for a five-storey apartment building, but was saved by the Fullerton Historic Theatre Foundation (FHTF), which was formed in 2001 to acquire and restore the theater. They officially took ownership in 2005, and the following year helped add the theater to the National Register of Historic Places. The city of Fullerton started to show films in the theater’s back parking lot in 2005 in an effort to help raise funds for the restoration. In 2015, Evergreene Architectural Arts, an Award-Winning Decoration & Restoration firm, replicated the original design elements on the auditorium ceiling as part of the restoration efforts.* At the same time, the “FOX FULLERTON” sign, which was removed for restoration in 2013, was reinstalled. The FHTF held a 90th birthday party for the the theater in May 2015 to unveil the restored ceiling and the reinstalled sign. In February 2016, a coffee shop opened in one of the refurbished retail spaces. The monthly rent from the shop will go towards the building’s restoration which is estimated to cost $26 million dollars, and $14 million has been spent as of 2016.
*These photographs were taken before the restoration of the auditorium ceiling.