Jersey City moves forward with $40M renovation of historic Loew’s Theatre

Posted On Fri, June 12, 2020 By

Posted On Fri, June 12, 2020 By In History, New Jersey

All photos taken by James and Karla Murray exclusively for 6sqft.

The historic Loew’s Wonder Theatre in Jersey City is finally set to receive the restoration it’s waited years for. Built in 1929 by architect George Rapp in a gilded, Baroque-Rococo style, the Loew’s Jersey was as a lavish entertainment destination for decades, until it was converted to a triplex movie theater in the ’70s and almost faced the wrecking ball in the ’80s. But through a grassroots preservation effort, the city bought the theater in 1987, allowing the nonprofit Friends of the Loew’s to begin restoration and operate as a nonprofit arts center. Though the group has made incredible progress, a significant amount of work remains. Now, the Wall Street Journal reports that Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop is searching for a commercial operator to help with the $40 million restoration and modernization effort of the 3,000-seat theater.

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

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 theaterPhotos of the balcony, which still needs restoration work, by James and Karla Murray exclusively for 6sqft.

In a 2018 interview, Friends of the Loew’s executive director Colin Egan explained that at the start of the project in 1987, the city matched a $1 million state grant, but the $2 million “didn’t cover the cost of things such as getting the heat turned on and making the bathrooms operational.” To make up for the lack of funding, every weekend until 1996, volunteers came out and completed projects from working on the mechanical and lighting systems to mapping every theater seat and scraping, priming, and painting them. According to the Journal, the renovation will retain the theater’s historic architecture but modernize stage-production capabilities, the air conditiong and heating systems, and the balcony, which has sat untouched since the ’80s.

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Photo by James and Karla Murray exclusively for 6sqft.

Mayor Fulop first tried to hire a commercial operator for the Loew’s Jersey in 2013, but it resulted in a legal dispute with Friends of the Loew’s. According to the Journal, the two have since reached an agreement that the nonprofit will be part of the renovation and preservation plans and will continue to oversee local community programming. The new commercial operator will “focus on attracting national and international comedic and musical talent.”

Prior to the pandemic, the Loew’s Jersey Theatre put on more than 70 events per year, along with renting out the space for events and weddings. Because of the lack of air conditioning, they’ve been unable to operate in the summer.

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.

The theater is one of five Loew’s Wonder Theatres built in 1929-30 around the New York City area, along with the Loew’s Paradise in the Bronx, the Loew’s Kings in Brooklyn, the Loew’s Valencia in Queens, and the Loew’s 175th Street (today the United Palace Theatre). “The over-the-top, opulent movie palaces were built by the Loew’s Corporation not only to establish their stature in the film world but to be an escape for people from all walks of life,” especially during the Great Depression and WWII, as 6sqft previously explained. The Loew’s Jersey was built in the bustling Journal Square area, near the train to NYC.

In addition to its amazing interior architecture–a three-story, domed lobby is dripping in gilded ornamentation with a massive Czech crystal chandelier, and the Italian Renaissance-style auditorium has intricate carvings and medallions from floor to ceiling–the Loew’s Jersey hosted an impressive roster of names over the years, including Bob Hope, Duke Ellington, the Ritz Brothers, Jackie Coogan, Bing Crosby, and Frank Sinatra.

Jersey City and the new commercial operator will contribute to the $40 million renovation cost, though the breakdown has not been made public.

[Via WSJ]

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