Bringing back the majesty Features of old vaudeville theater part of new condo/retail development
by Donald M. Kelly Reporter staff writer
Apr 11, 2003 | 464 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A spot where the Marx brothers and Mae West once performed will now be a new mixed-use development in downtown Jersey City.

Situated across the street from City Hall, the Majestic Theater project is nearly half complete and will begin the sales efforts for the condominium section of the complex in May.

"The theater was close to collapsing when it was demolished in 1995," said Eric Silverman, president of Contract Logistics in Jersey City, last week. Logistics is currently renovating the three buildings that were attached to the now-vanished vaudeville and silent movie theater, which stood at the corner of Montgomery and Grove streets.

"There was 20 years' worth of water damage to the structure," Silverman added. "It had to be removed."

Silverman said his company has had a long history of sensitive restoration work in Jersey City. The projects that Contract Logistics have brought to fruition since the 1980s include the restoration of the Park Hamilton, now serving as a senior housing project, and the conversion of St. Anthony's elementary school to a housing project.

Replacing the old theater on Montgomery, according to Silverman, will be a condo complex comprised of studio apartments and one-, two- and three-bedroom units.

"We will have seven studio apartments," said Sawyer Smith, sales director for Contract Logistics. "There will be 23 one-bedroom apartments and 13 two-bedroom units."

Contract Logistics is currently restoring what was the old lobby to the theater, which had its entrance on Grove Street. Included in the restoration effort will be an historic staircase that led to the balcony of the theater. Silverman said this area will be the entrance to the completed project.

Sawyer added the complex would have three three-bedroom apartments, bringing the total to 46 units in the entire complex. Silverman said two of the three-bedroom units would be duplexes, and one would be on the second floor.

"Prices on the units would range between $130,000 to $400,000 for all the units," Silverman said. "The entire project is market-rate housing."

"We've had a lot of interest in the condos right now," said Silverman, noting that both singles and couples have been looking at moving into the complex when units become available.

Silverman believes downtown Jersey City is the place to develop mixed-use residential projects, since the section has a number of attractive features that make it appealing.

"The transportation factor is a part of it," Silverman explained. "We have the PATH station a few blocks away and the ferry service to the city."

Silverman added that various stores within walking distance of the complex will make shopping easier for residents.

Currently, The Merchant restaurant has occupied a part of the first building next to the local bakery. Silverman said he has plans to bring in another restaurant at the street level and also a flower shop at the corner of Montgomery and Grove.

"They will be high-end shops in those buildings," Silverman said. "We want to bring a pulse to the neighborhood, and the stores will help do that."

Silverman hopes to bring offices and other business-related rentals to the three buildings on Grove Street, along with an art house-style cinema on the ground floor.

Vaudeville and silent movies

"I have a personal interest in the Majestic Theater," said John Gomez, president of the Jersey City Landmarks Conservancy. "My grandfather performed there in the 1920s. His name was John Gomez, also."

Gomez said his grandfather was a singer and dancer who relocated to Jersey City from New England in order to be closer to the metropolitan performance venues, including the Majestic.

"The Majestic functioned as a vaudeville and silent movie house until the 1930s, when talking pictures came in," Gomes stated. "The theater became obsolete as soon as the talking pictures arrived. It was too small to accommodate the larger crowds the new movies brought in."

For a brief period, Gomez added, the Majestic was home to a popcorn factory before being completely abandoned. Gomez stated that efforts were made in the 1980s to rehabilitate the structure, but nothing ever happened. The Majestic was torn down in 1995.

Jersey City Planning Board Commissioner Leon Yost praised Contract Logistics' restoration efforts on the remains of Majestic Theater, noting the attention to detail the developers have shown with the Grove Street structures.

"So far, they get very high marks," Yost commented. "They have reproduced the lion's heads and cornices from the old building. Its looks just as good now as it did in the pictures from 1900."

'New Urbanism' movement

Yost said the overall architectural design for the Majestic Theater Project was an example of an architectural design movement known as "New Urbanism."

According to Yost, New Urbanism is an approach to development and design that features structures on a human scale.

"New Urbanism would have only three- or four-story buildings and stores at street level," Yost said. "This is opposed to towers set back on the block and surrounded by a moat of parking lots."

Yost added the "tower" approach kept people from utilizing the retail portions of mixed-use developments. "People would have to walk across large parking lots to get to the stores, and people didn't want to that," Yost said.

Silverman agreed that the Majestic Theater Project his company is doing uses the principles of New Urbanism by having different retail stores at street level. While other developments seek to simulate a human-scale, urban setting, Silverman believes the new approach came with the buildings.

"We're doing New Urbanism for real," Silverman declared.
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