When I saw Rosi’s Quick Hit on the surviving photos from Newark’s Paramount Theater (whose marquee I have driven past countless times, wondering what’s inside), I was taken aback by how stunning the photos were, and how glorious that theater must have been in its prime.
It got me thinking back to my childhood in Central Jersey, when our movie theater of choice was The Brook in nearby Bound Brook (now the Brook Arts Center), and about so many old theaters scattered about New Jersey whose fates have varied widely.
On the one hand, we have incredibly restored vaudeville houses like The Levoy Theater in Millville, which acts as an economic and cultural engine – a treasure for that river town and surrounding area. And New Brunswick’s State Theater, right in the middle of the Hub City, and very much at the center of its rebirth. Or The John Harms Center aka Bergen Performing Arts Center, which now attracts some of the world’s finest performing artists into downtown Englewood.
On the other hand, we have spectacular losses, like the Paramount, and Proctor’s Theater also in Newark, and what once was The Fabian Theater in Paterson, which appears to be past saving. There’s no doubt a faded beauty near you.
Seems a shame there aren’t more stories like Boonton’s Darress Theater. Its stage abandoned and the building serving only as a camera shop as recently as 15 years ago, the Darress website now proudly proclaims it: “iis one of the few surviving vaudeville stages in the country. Built in 1919, the theatre retains much of its original charm.” It also hosts live stage productions, film screenings, and private parties/functions.
Invariably, these things take community action, local government buy-in, state and federal dollars, and years of tenacity from volunteer stakeholders. But, when stories of urban revival are juxtaposed with photos of urban decay, it is a reminder of what is possible when we put it all together.