Jersey City aims to take historic Loew’s theatre to the next level

$72 million agreement reached with new operator

Inside the historic Loews Jersey Theater at 54 Journal Square Plaza. Photo by Jen Brown.
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Inside the historic Loews Jersey Theater at 54 Journal Square Plaza. Photo by Jen Brown.

Restoration plans are moving forward for the historic Loew’s Jersey Theatre in Journal Square.

The city selected Devils Arena Entertainment to restore and operate the century-old theatre as a state-of-the-art 3,300-seat venue.

“The Loew’s restoration is decades in the making, and so I am encouraged and excited to partner with Devils Arena Entertainment, a reputable entertainment company and operator of the globally successful Prudential Center, as we take this monumental step forward in our commitment to restoring Loew’s Theatre to its former glory, reviving Journal Square, and growing our arts community,” said Mayor Steven Fulop. “This one-of-a-kind partnership signifies our long-term planning for a post-pandemic future where we’re confident arts and culture will be a staple of life.”

According to the city, the $72 million rehabilitation and operation agreement ensures DAE will work with Jersey City and Friends of the Loew’s to return the iconic theatre to the world-class centerpiece of arts and entertainment it once was.

Plans include modern tech upgrades with state-of-the-art visual and acoustic upgrades and concessions and ticketing areas; changes to the ingress and egress at the back and front of the house to meet ADA requirements and expand audience capacity; major infrastructure improvements including the HVAC system and plumbing and electrical upgrades to meet modern code requirements; and historic preservation of the stage lighting control board, popup microphone, and orchestra and organ lifts.

A gilded entertainment palace

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 had created and owned MGM Studios.

The five theatres were movie palaces, a unique building type that combined large seating capacities and ornate architecture with then state-of-the-art movie projection capabilities and stage and backstage facilities to support large touring shows.

The Loew’s Corporation spared little expense at the time and constructed the Loew’s Jersey for $2,000,000 complete with soaring coffered gold ceilings, plush red drapes, a large stage for live shows, and a large screen for movies.

In its first years, the theatre hosted stage shows with some of the greatest stars of the 1930s, including Cab Calloway, George Burns, Gracie Allen, and Duke Ellington. Judy Garland, Humphrey Bogart, and Jean Harlow made promotional appearances there. The Four Seasons gave a concert at the Loew’s in 1967.

In 1986, the Loew’s was closed, sold, and slated for demolition, but Friends of the Loews 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 and FOL operated the venue.

In recent years, Patti Labelle, Kurt Vile, Courtney Barnett, Yo La Tengo, The Duprees, and Beck have graced the Loew’s stage as have authors George R. R. Martin and Stephen King.

“The Loew’s Jersey Theatre is an iconic community treasure that has played a long, distinguished role as Jersey City’s premier arts and entertainment venue,” said President of Devils Arena Entertainment Hugh Weber. “The opportunity to partner with Mayor Fulop, the Friends of the Loew’s, and the local Journal Square community to revitalize this historic venue is a privilege for us. As the operator of the nearby Prudential Center, one of the top entertainment destinations in the United States, we know the importance that live performances play in galvanizing communities and stimulating economic activity. We envision Loew’s Jersey Theatre as a catalyst to help the citizens of Northern Jersey get back, literally, on their feet to celebrate world class arts and music.”

Last summer, city officials, in cooperation with FOL, issued a request for proposals (RFP) for the redevelopment, operation, and management of the Loew’s.

“Now we look forward to actively working with JCRA [Jersey City Redevelopment Agency] to create the detailed redevelopment agreement that will harness HBSE’s expertise in commercial show management and marketing while also implementing all that last summer’s RFP guaranteed to FOL, including that we will remain the stewards of the Theatre’s history and preservation, continue the volunteerism that brings direct community participation in the life and preservation of this landmark, maintain and grow our support for local arts and other nonprofit groups, go on providing affordable programming, and perhaps most important, ensure as many people as possible have the opportunity to enjoy and benefit from the Loew’s,” said Colin Egan, founder of Friends of the Loew’s.

According to the city, construction is expected to begin in 2022 with an anticipated opening in 2025. The agreement ensures prioritizing the hiring of local, MWBE firms to help revitalize the regional economy and get people back to work.

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.