JERSEY CITY, NJ - Six years after Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop attempted to wrestle control of the Loews Theater away from the nonprofit running it in order to create a performing arts center, the city and Friends of the Loews have agreed to work together.
In a press conference held in the lobby of the historic theater in Journal Square, city officials joined those of the Friends of the Loews to announce a fast-tracked proposal that could see the theater refurbished within two years of awarding a contract.
The new joint venture proposed this week is being called “an exciting new chapter” for the iconic Loews Theatre in Journal Square to restore and maximize the historic landmark’s potential and seems to end the legal wrangling that began in 2014 when the City attempted to turn the theater into a performing arts center and went so far as to award contracts for theater operations and restoration. Now City officials, in cooperation with FOL, are issuing a request for proposals (RFP) with the goal of boosting programming as well as supporting significant restoration and improvement of the theater, listed on the New Jersey Register of Historic Places.
Saying he is a bit wiser than when, using an argument that the FOL were not in a position to restore the theater, he first attempted to take control of the theater, Fulop praised the efforts of the Friends of the Loews which managed to save the theater from certain destruction in 1986 and has since struggled to restore the theater.
As the city moves forward with a renewed relationship with the community-based nonprofit organization, the Loews Jersey is poised to achieve new heights as a major regional arts and entertainment venue.
“The pandemic is not going to slow the city down, and after six years of stalled progress and litigation we are excited to finally have a positive plan in conjunction with FOL. We will now restore the theatre and find a partner that can bring world class talent on a regular basis to Jersey City,” Fulop said. “This is a significant step for Journal Square and the entire city.”
The historic Loews is posed to be an integral part of the revival and rehabilitation of the Journal Square area - Jersey City's historic city center and one of the busiest transportation hubs in the region.
With a projected cost nearly of nearly $40 million, the city plans to package a variety of alternative financing options such as historic tax credits and contributions from local developers.
While the historic theatre is in operable condition and is currently open in limited capacity, it does require additional restoration and renovation to allow for full occupancy, improvement and modernization of production capabilities to expand the number and scale of productions, and increased patron comfort. Ultimately, the city’s vision is to expand the operation of the Loews as a cultural and entertainment venue in which major commercial programming is presented regularly while maintaining and growing the diverse additional affordable programming -- such as local arts, theatrical, dance, multi-cultural, educational, film, and community-related shows, events, and activities.
The RFP seeks to find a commercial promoter and venue operator to partner in programming the Loew's and bring a regular schedule of major national and international acts that will add to the diverse arts, community, and film shows already presented by FOL.
"I think we can create a practical partnership between FOL as a dynamic, community-based arts organization, and a major commercial promoter/venue operator so we can create something more expansive, successful, and contributory to our community than would be possible by either alone,” Colin Egan, a founder of Friends of the Loews said. "FOL is committed to the goal of having the Loews host a regular schedule of commercial programming for the affordable enjoyment of area residents, and also as a means to provide support for the Theatre and other programming in it.”
The majestic and historic Loews Jersey Theatre was called "The Most Lavish Temple of Entertainment In New Jersey" when it opened at Jersey City's Journal Square nearly 91 years ago for its soaring ceilings, coffered gold ceilings, plush red drapes, more than 3,000 seats, large stage for live shows, and large screen for movies. The Loews ceased presenting a regular schedule of live shows in the mid-1930s in the wake of the advent of talking pictures and the need to cut costs during the Great Depression.
But the Loews continued as a first run movie house, remaining an iconic local venue for decades, well past the time that many of its contemporaries were closed. In 1973, the Loews Jersey was converted into a triplex to reflect the changed business model of motion picture presentation. In 1986, the Loews Jersey was closed, sold and slated for demolition, but FOL was formed and called for the Theatre to be reopened and restored as a multi-discipline arts and entertainment center. Jersey City joined in this vision, and in 1993 bought the Loews Jersey. It has since remained underutilized.
“There have been many roadblocks over the past several decades which is why the theatre has remained underutilized, but we’ve come to the point where we will make the turn to revive the Journal Square gem that has unparalleled history and untapped potential… until now,” Fulop said.
The Loews Jersey is one of five "Wonder Theaters" built in the tri-state area in the late 1920s by the Loews Corporation, which had created and owned MGM Studios and was at the time one of the most important presenters of both live stage shows and movies. The five theatres were movie palaces - a unique building type which, somewhat belying its name, combined large seating capacities and some of the most ornate architecture ever built with then state-of-the-art movie projection capabilities and also stage and backstage facilities to support large touring shows. The Loews Corporation spared little expense in building the five Wonder Theatres, making them exceptionally ornate and functionally capable compared even to many other movie palaces. The Loews Jersey cost $2,000,000 to build -- a very large sum at the time.
In its first years, the Loews hosted stage shows with some of the greatest stars of the 1930s, including Cab Calloway, George Burns, Gracie Allen, and Duke Ellington. A young and unknown Frank Sinatra took his date to the Loews in 1933 to see Bing Crosby on stage, and according to Nancy Sinatra, that's when her father was inspired to pursue his own singing career. Movie stars including Judy Garland, Humphrey Bogart and Jean Harlow made promotional appearances there. The Four Seasons gave a concert at the Loews in 1967.
In recent years, stars like Patti Labelle, Kurt Vile and Courtney Barnett, Yo La Tengo, Sufjan Stevens, Neutral Milk Hotel, The Decemberists, The Duprees, and Beck have graced the Loews stage. Authors George R. Martin and Stephen King, as well stars Nick Offerman, Anna Faris, and Brian Cranston have all sat down to discuss their new books inside the venue.
Over the years the Loews has often been a filming location for movies, television shows, and music videos, most recently in 2018 when it was used for scenes in the film, "The Joker", starring Joaquin Phoenix.
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