Restoring the city’s heart

Jersey City seeks an operator for the historic Loew's Jersey Theatre

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Jersey City hopes to attract an operator for the historic Loew's Jersey Theatre that will draw national and international acts as well as provide a space for community performances.
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The guided theater requires an estimated $40 million in restoration and renovations. Photo by Jen Brown.
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Jersey City hopes to attract an operator for the historic Loew's Jersey Theatre that will draw national and international acts as well as provide a space for community performances.
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The guided theater requires an estimated $40 million in restoration and renovations. Photo by Jen Brown.

In two years’ time Journal Square’s iconic Loew’s Jersey Theatre may be restored and thriving after Mayor Steven Fulop and the Friends of Loew’s (FOL) announced a joint endeavor to restore the historic landmark

City officials, in cooperation with FOL, issued a request for proposals (RFP) with the goal of becoming a leading entertainment venue while supporting needed restoration.

The city is accepting proposals for the redevelopment, operation, and management of the Loew’s, with the FOL, that satisfy the objectives of the theatre’s Redevelopment Plan.

“We will now restore the theatre and find a partner that can bring world class talent on a regular basis to Jersey City,” said Mayor Steven Fulop “This is a significant step for Journal Square and the entire city.”

Journal Square revival

The city’s vision is to offer major commercial programming while growing affordable programming, including local arts; theater; dance; and multicultural, educational, film, and community-related shows, events, and activities.

“I think we can create a practical partnership between FOL as a dynamic, community-based arts organization, and a major commercial promoter/venue operator so we can create something more expansive, successful, and contributory to our community than would be possible by either alone,” said Colin Egan, founder and director of FOL.

“Journal Square is a priority for us, to restore it back to being the heart of the city, to being a place that everybody comes to whether for restaurants, nightlife, or a a show,” Fulop said.

“The best thing for this theatre is right across the street,” said Councilman Rich Boggiano, noting the easy access to the PATH train. People don’t have to take their cars. They can get on the train from New York, Newark, Western Jersey.”

Needed renovations

The renovation is projected to cost nearly $40 million, with the city incorporating alternative financing such as historic tax credits, contributions from local developers, grants, and other sources.

The Loew’s Jersey requires renovation to allow for the full occupancy of 3,000. It also needs modernization of production capabilities to expand the number and scale of productions, and upgrading the cooling and heating systems, renovating the bathrooms, and ensuring the building is ADA compliant.

History

The Loew’s Jersey is one of five “Wonder Theaters” built in the tristate area in the late 1920s by the Loew’s Corporation, which was created by MGM Studios and was at the time one of the most important presenters of both plays and movies.

The five theatres were movie palaces which combined large seating capacities, ornate architecture, and then state-of-the-art movie projection, as well as stage and backstage facilities to support large touring shows.

The Loew’s Corporation spared little expense. The Loew’s Jersey cost $2 million, a large sum at the time.

The Loew’s Jersey Theatre was called “The Most Lavish Temple of Entertainment In New Jersey” when it opened.

It has soaring coffered gold ceilings, plush red drapes, a large stage for live shows, and a large screen for movies.

A young and unknown Frank Sinatra took his date to the Loew’s in 1933 to see Bing Crosby on stage. According to Nancy Sinatra, that’s when her father was inspired to pursue his own singing career.

The Loew’s ceased presenting live shows in the mid-1930s in the wake of talking pictures and the need to cut costs during the Great Depression.

But the Loew’s continued as a movie house. In 1973, it was converted into a triplex to reflect the changed business model of movie presentation.

In 1986, the Loew’s was closed, sold, and slated for demolition, but FOL was formed and called for the theatre to be reopened and restored as a multi-discipline arts and entertainment center. In 1993 Jersey City bought the Loew’s Jersey. Though it has been largely underused, stars like Patti Labelle, Kurt Vile, Courtney Barnett, Yo La Tengo, Sufjan Stevens, Neutral Milk Hotel, The Decemberists, The Duprees, and Beck have graced the stage. Authors George R. Martin and Stephen King, as well stars Nick Offerman, Anna Faris, and Brian Cranston have all discussed their books there.

The Loew’s has been a location for movies, television shows, and music videos.

In 2018 the Loew’s was used for scenes in the film, “The Joker” and in 2019 Apple TV’s “Dickinson” was filmed there.

For updates on this and other stories check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Marilyn Baer can be reached at Marilynb@hudsonreporter.com.