The moment we walked toward the entrance of the movie palace I stepped back in time. It was the first time in over 45 years that I’ve been at this theater. I was a child again, holding my grandfather’s hand as he purchased two tickets to see the latest show.
As I stepped into the main lobby I’d forgotten the grandeur of the old theater, and how beautiful and glamorous the walls and ceilings were decorated.
We were at the original Loew’s Wonder Theater located in Journal Square in Jersey City. When it first opened it was a series of flagship theaters located in the New York City area.
Originally opening in 1929, I wondered if men and women got dressed up in tuxedoes and gowns for the premiere of the first film, Madame X, and its accompanying live music on the “Wonder Pipe” organ.
I was jolted back into the present when our guide, Paul Melia, the person who invited my family and me to the theater, introduced himself and gave us a backstage tour of the theater.
We were amazed as we walked down, down, down the stairs and into the bowels of the theater. I once again stepped back in time, into the 1930’s as we peered into old dressing rooms, rehearsal halls and a trap door.
This building is steeped in history, and was built for live performances as well as movies. Renowned vaudeville acts and great crooners like Bing Crosby performed here.
This was the place where a skinny kid from Hoboken decided to become a singer.
It was the 1930’s and Bing Crosby was performing at the Loew’s. In the audience that night was none other than Frank Sinatra who was so mesmerized by the great vocalist that he declared that evening to make his life’s goal to become a great singer. (NOTE: Nancy Sinatra confirmed this story.)
I think Frank Sinatra made good on his promise, don’t you?
Back upstairs, we found ourselves in back of the stage. I was ready to do what I’d come to do.
Step back into time again.
I took a deep breath, then slowly peered around the curtain to look out into the audience. After taking my first look the memories came flooding back.
The ghosts of the past were on my shoulder, and I felt it. I hoped the gathering audience knew how blessed they were to be able to share in the experience of this extraordinary venue. Because the Loew’s is not only a landmark, it’s also a piece of art history. Harking back to a time when going to the movies was more than seeing loud blockbusters, 3D technology and paying ten dollars for popcorn and a soda.
The Friends of the Loew’s, the group who lobbied to save the building from being torn down, have worked tirelessly to restore the deteriorating building to its original Baroque-Rococo style.
Last night seeing the first movie to celebrate the theaters 85th anniversary was a treat. You can imagine how thrilled I was that the FOL decided to show classic films, and use the theme “movies about movies!”
We saw “Barton Fink” and today “Singin’ in the Rain” and “Sunset Boulevard” will be shown.
I’d like to thank Paul Melia, Colin Egan and The Friends of the Loew’s for providing a magical evening for my family and friends, and for me. It’s not every night we are treated to the music of a pipe organ that appears and disappears through the floorboards while we wait for our movie to begin.
Best of luck on continuing the restoration, with the hope that concerts, movies and theater at the Loew’s will bring more and more people to discover what I’ve always known.
That this is a special place.