'Concerned' Citizens Rally to Save Historic Madison Movie Theater

A group of spirited rally goers gather for a photo. Credits: Nick Hawkins
Sandy Kolakowski delivers a speech thanking everyone and asks for their continued support. Credits: Nick Hawkins
A single poster decorates the steps of the Hartley Dodge Memorial Building during the community rally. Credits: Nick Hawkins
One attendee's flyer. Credits: Nick Hawkins
Cold and rainy weather meant a slow start for the rally. Credits: Nick Hawkins

MADISON, NJ – Cold temperatures and high winds did not do the “Save The Historic Madison Theater” community rally any favors. 

Despite the gray and rainy weather, dozens of people were on hand Sunday afternoon on the steps of the Hartley Dodge Memorial Building for the “Save the Historic Madison Theater” community rally, showing their support for the historic Madison theater as they enjoyed steaming hot coffee and donuts.

“We actually thought the weather would be nicer—it’s been a long winter,” said Sandy Kolakowski, head of the Save Madison Theater Committee.

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“If we can get anybody out today, I’ll be happy because the weather is terrible,” said David Hanna, a member of the Save Madison Theater Committee who has lived in Madison for nearly a decade. Hanna said he thinks the Madison theater is an important historic landmark, and would like to see it refurbished.

“I take the train in and out of the city, and just seeing the theater is like coming home,” he said.

Deborah Fennelly is a Convent Station resident who grew up in Madison. At the rally, she said she spoke for local merchants "whom she spoke to directly." Fennelly believes that Madison should follow the example of the Mayo Performing Arts Center in Morristown, which was originally a movie theater until it was refurbished in 1994.

“A model like that will bring more business than just several units of housing,” said Fennelly, a musician, voice teacher, piano teacher and actor whose parents and brother still live in Madison on opposite sides of Main street.

“I am a huge supporter of keeping live arts in a community. What it does for children is unmistakable. While I think that every town has to adjust to the times—and we do have to build housing closer to the train—we shouldn’t be doing it on the site of the theater.”

For the time being, the Save Madison Theater Committee is waiting for the developer Saxum Real Estate to submit formal plans to Madison’s Planning Board and Historic Preservation Commission. 

Because the theater is designated as a historic building, the Historic Preservation Commission must also approve any construction plans for this property before any demolition or renovations can begin—an extra step that in some cases can safeguard Madison’s oldest buildings. 

In the past two months, “we haven’t heard anything more about the plans for the theater,” Kolakowski said, referencing a Feb. 13 meeting of Saxum representatives and the Madison Historic Preservation Commission, where updated concept plans were discussed for a new theater at 14 Lincoln Place that would also house retail stores and apartments. No other meetings have been held since. 

While the future of the 93-year-old historic theater remains uncertain, Kolakowski, Hanna and their fellow committee members said they hope to get more support from the public before any official plans are submitted.

“We’re just hoping to get people interested enough to put political pressure on the powers that be,” Hanna said.

Lindsay Ireland contributed reporting to this story. 

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