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 could be cost prohibitive. Moving forward, the borough will either demolish a portion of the theater and incorporate what remains into the new performing arts center or they will demolish the whole building and honor the Ritz in the design of the new one. 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.
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.
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!
Remember in the last post how I said I had an announcement I was going to keep secret for the moment? Well, here it is – Jonglez Publishing is going to be publishing a book featuring my photography of abandoned theaters!
After the Final Curtain: The Fall of the American Movie Theater consists of 24 theaters from New York to California, including some that have never been posted on this site.
I’m excited to announce that I’ll once again be partnering with photographer/founder of Abandoned America, Matthew Christopher for photo workshops in 2016!
First, we will be returning to the Victory Theatre in Holyoke, MA on April 9, 2016. The Victory Theatre opened on December 30, 1920 and closed 58 years late on December 15, 1978. It is currently owned by the Massachusetts International Festival of the Arts, who plan to renovate the theater and reopen it as a performing arts center. Past workshops have generated over $4000 for MIFA.
We will also be returning to the Variety Theatre in 2016. The details for that workshop will be announced at a later date.
The Variety opened on November 24, 1927 and after a number of different uses (including a wrestling gym called the Cleveland Wrestleplex) closed in the late 1980s. The building was purchased by the Friends of the Historic Variety Theatre on June 12, 2009, and they plan to restore the theater as a multi-use venue.
The Moreland Theatre opened on January 12, 1928 in Cleveland, Ohio. It was designed by the local architectural firm of Braverman & Havermaet for A. T. (Adolph) Wallach, a real estate entrepreneur. The 1,296 seat theater is located in the Buckeye neighborhood, which had the largest concentration of Hungarian immigrants in the country at the time the theater was constructed. A press release for the opening of the theater describes it as having, “the most modern system of indirect side lighting,…newest type of projection machines,…and every facility and resource to contribute to the complete enjoyment of its patrons.” The Moreland cost $300,000 to build, equal to a $4,156,421 budget today when adjusted for inflation.
Originally built for vaudeville and silent films, the Moreland was part of the Universal-Variety circuit and opened with, The Cat and the Canary, starring Laura LaPlante. The film was accompanied by a live performance by George Williams and his band, the music box Merrymakers. Larry Jean Fisher, “The Texas Organist,” played the $40,000 Kimball organ throughout the opening night. The owners made sure to program for the theater’s Hungarian community soon after opening by scheduling the Hungarian Elite Mixed Choir, who performed in March 1928.
In October 1929, theater operator Paul Gusdanovic took over the Moreland Theatre. He already had a partnership interest in the Regent Theatre, which was located a few blocks away from the Moreland. Gusdanovic began jointly operating them, but was forced to close the Moreland in December due to the Stock Market crash of 1929. He reopened it a few times showing primarily Hungarian films as well as hosting community events.
The G&P Amusement Company of Cleveland acquired the lease to the Moreland in 1937. They remodeled the theater, adding a new RCA sound system, and began showing daily double features of Hollywood films. However, G&P ran into problems early on as they faced competition from the Gusdanovic’s Regent Theatre and the newly opened Colony Theatre in Shaker Square.In March 1949, G&P filed suit against the owners of the Regent, along with four other studios — 20th Century Fox, Loew’s, Warner Bros and Universal Studios — claiming that the Gusdanovic conspired with the studios to ruin the Moreland.G&P were eventually forced to close the theater in 1950. The Cleveland District Court ruled against G&P in 1952 — the judge said that the neighborhood could not support two theaters. G&P appealed the decision to the Sixth Court of Appeals who upheld the lower court’s decision.
The Moreland opened, closed and reopened throughout the 1950s and early 1960s. It was remodeled into a musical dinner theater in 1963 by Gerard Gentile, William Boehm and Eugene Woods. The trio had experience in theaters in the Cleveland area and were determined to revitalize the Moreland. It opened as Players Theatre Café in January 1964. Once again, the reopening was short lived and the theater closed in April 1964. It reopened again as the Beach Party Room in July 1967, with three inches of sand and artificial palm trees in the auditorium to help give the illusion that patrons were attending a party on the beach.This venture only lasted four months, after which it was turned into a dance club called “Second Shadow Lounge” in October 1967. This too did not last very long, and the theater became a Hungarian playhouse in June 1969. By 1975 the theater was closed again, and three years later it was sold to the Church of God in Christ (CGC). CGC became the theater’s longest tenant, using the building as a worship space for almost thirty years.
The CGC sold the theater in 2007 to the Buckeye Area Development Corporation (BADC), a not-for-profit community development corporation serving the area. BADC planned to restore the theater as a cultural center, but have yet to raise the estimated $6.1 million needed to renovate the building.