Sit back and relax; enjoy the show!
Or so went the jingle at every Loews theater, before every screening, in New York City in the late 80’s. It was best sung in a loud falsetto and it always got laughs from the audience.
Long before this though Loews had another chain with different ambitions. Rather than a corporate feeling theater in every neighborhood, it was a small collection of movie palaces, done on such a scale that they would overwhelm and amaze the audience before they even sat down. There were five of these “Wonder Theaters” in the New York area, designed by Rapp and Rapp in a Baroque/Rococo style.
I photographed the Loew’s Jersey last fall but the photos just ran in the September 2010 issue of New York Spaces. Located in Journal Square, the heart of Jersey City; the theater opened in the fall of 1929, right before the crash. Legend has it that a young unknown, Frank Sinatra, took a date there in 1933 to see a movie and a performance by Bing Crosby. He decided then and there that he too would be a star.
The theater has only three levels but that belies the enormous space within. It seats 3100.
The theater was saved from demolition in the 1993. It currently operates as a non-profit performance space which is doing its best to slowly renovate the massive space. To be inside it truly transports you through time. It turns out that cuts both ways. As we worked on the assignment, the building manager told us that the distinctive hue we were seeing was not intentional but the residue of the thousands of people per day smoking during the theater’s first few decades.
You can find one behind the scenes image in this blog post from last year.