Jersey City announces $72M restoration of historic Loew’s Theatre

February 23, 2021

All renderings courtesy of OTJ Architects

Jersey City has reached a $72 million deal with the operator of the Prudential Center to transform the historic Loew’s Wonder Theatre into a modern 3,300-seat venue. Mayor Steven Fulop on Monday announced a partnership with Devils Arena Entertainment to renovate the nearly 100-year-old theater that once operated as an opulent entertainment destination when it opened in 1929 and was nearly demolished in the 1980s, but was saved by a grassroots preservation effort. The city sees the restoration of Loew’s as part of a broader revitalization of the transit-friendly Journal Square neighborhood, where multiple mixed-use towers are in the works.

“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,” Fulop said.

“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.”

The restoration plan involves visual and acoustic upgrades as well as modernized concessions and ticketing areas. The entrances and exits will be redesigned to meet ADA requirements and expand capacity, infrastructure improvements will be made, and the stage lighting control board, pop-up microphone, and orchestra and organ lifts will all be carefully preserved.

According to the city, construction is expected to begin in 2022 with an anticipated opening in 2025. The agreement involves priority hiring of local, minority- and women-owned business enterprise (MWBE) firms.

Loew’s Jersey Theatre, Rapp and Rapp, Journal Square theater, Journal Square history, Loew's Jersey City, Loew's Wonder Theatres, Wonder Theatre Jersey City, Jersey City historic theater
Photo by James and Karla Murray exclusively for 6sqft.

Loew’s Jersey Theatre, Rapp and Rapp, Journal Square theater, Journal Square history, Loew's Jersey City, Loew's Wonder Theatres, Wonder Theatre Jersey City, Jersey City historic theater
Photo by James and Karla Murray exclusively for 6sqft.

Architect George Rapp built the theater in 1929 in a gilded, Baroque-Rococo style. As 6sqft previously reported, Loew’s Jersey opened that year as the fourth of five Loew’s Wonder Theatres, joining Loew’s Paradise in the Bronx and Loew’s Kings in Brooklyn, both of which also opened in 1929.

The theater, which cost $2 million to construct, boasts a lavish design, which boasts a three-story domed oval lobby with gilded details and a “grand chandelier made of pre-war Czech crystals and held up by faux marble columns.” Before the building fell into decay, the theater featured an “eight-foot, 150-year-old French Buhl clock, Dresden porcelain vases from the Vanderbilt mansion, bronze statues from France, crimson curtains embroidered with gold griffins and a turquoise-tiled Carrera marble fountain filled with goldfish,” according to the New York Times.

The original auditorium contained 1,900 seats with an additional 1,200 seats at the balcony level. Loew’s Jersey welcomed many notable performers of the early 20th century, including Bob Hope, Duke Ellington, the Ritz Brothers, Jackie Coogan, Bing Cosby, Frank Sinatra, and many others.

In the 1970s, the Loew’s Corporation converted the historic site into a triplex movie theater. In 1986, it closed its doors after selling the site to developer Hartz Mountain Industries, which planned on razing the building to make way for an office tower. After opposition from the community, led by the nonprofit Friends of the Loew’s (FOL), the building was saved from demolition.

The city later bought the property and leased it to Friends, which has led a mostly volunteer effort to preserve the space and raise money for restoration work. Since 2001, the space has reopened as a movie theater and concert venue, with about 70 events per year, prior to the coronavirus pandemic.

Last June, the city issued a request for proposals seeking a commercial operator to split the $40 million cost of the project. The Jersey City Redevelopment Agency (JCRA) on Monday approved a resolution that selected DAE as the operator. The agreement reached requires DAE to work closely with the Jersey City community and FOL.

“That agreement will continue FOL’s role as the non-profit arm of the Loew’s, so we’ll go on with our volunteer activities that bring direct community participation in the life and preservation of this landmark, maintain and grow our support for local arts and other non-profit groups, and provide affordable programming,” Colin Egan, Founder of Friends of the Loew’s, said. “Perhaps most importantly of all, we’ll continue to ensure as many people as possible have the opportunity to enjoy and benefit from the Loew’s.”


Renderings courtesy of OTJ Architects

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