Strand Theatre

202 N. Hermitage Avenue,
Trenton, NJ 08618

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Showing 26 - 32 of 32 comments

David Wodeyla
David Wodeyla on May 31, 2005 at 3:38 pm

Mike H could probably tell us some interesting stories about the former head of AMC and his partner, who left AMC to run General Cinema until it went bankrupt, about 3 years after they took over. I’m just not sure where the appropriate place is, to discuss individuals, rather than buildings.

RickB on May 31, 2005 at 3:26 pm

To add a theater just click where it says “Add Theaters” at the top of the page, and fill in the forms with as much data as you know. It doesn’t have to be perfect. I’ve submitted the Centre Street, because I know some of its recent history and got the address out of last year’s phone book, but it doesn’t even have to be that much. Updates are just comments like these here.

Ken Roe
Ken Roe on May 31, 2005 at 2:32 pm

I got my information on the Strand Theatre from the Theatre Historical Society of America. There was a short piece written in their ‘Marquee’ magazine. Of course the information they had could be incorrect as well, depending on their source. Local town planning offices will probably have archive records that give all relevent information, or local newspaper archives.

If you find out anymore, please let us know.

MikeH on May 31, 2005 at 2:18 pm

TC: thanks for your comment. I’ll tell you what I know of the Trenton theatres. Most of it is fact. Some of it may be the folklore that you hear as a kid and remember as a senior citizen, but I’ll try.

I grew up in Trenton and obviously was involved in the theatre business because of Dad. There were two circuits and a couple of independent operators when I was a teenager in the 50s. One of them was RKO theatres that operated (and I assume owned) the downtown Lincoln, Trent, Capitol, Palace and State and the suburban Hamilton,
Brunswick and Broad. The Lincoln was the movie palace of the town. I don’t know how many seats but it must have approached 2000. It was a beautiful theatre on North Warren St. and had an orchestra pit with an organ which rose up on a hydraulic lift. For years the organist was Belton Holmes who also had a radio show (one of the Phila. stations I think) where he played for a half hour on Sunday nights. (At least I think it was Sunday nights.) The Lincoln had also been a vaudville house but that was before my time. It was a class, first-run house. The Universal Rock Hudson and Doris Day movies were typical fare for the Lincoln.
About two doors closer to State Street (the main street of Trenton) was the Trent. Much smaller than the Lincoln, no balcony like the Lincoln, but a very nice house none the less. I’d guess maybe 900 to 1000 seats. It was RKOs #2 first run house, had a good run of product and was a successful theatre for years. I’d have to go back and look to see if the buildings are still there.
A block down State Street from Warren Street was Broad Street and State and Broad was the most important intersection in Trenton. A block south on Broad was the RKO Capitol. It was a very large theatre, probably had more seats than the Lincoln, and was RKOs first-run “B” house in center city. It played shoot-em-ups and horror but couldn’t seem to make it with the upscale stuff. The theatre was built by a group of investors, one of which was Walter Reade, Sr. (The famous Walter Reade’s father) I’m not sure when it became an RKO house but I always remember it as part of that circuit.
Both the Capitol and the Lincoln and my father’s Stacy had those big marquees with chasers that were so typical of the old movie palaces.
The RKO State was two blocks further down State Street. It was a small, non-descript house which played whatever it could get including move-overs from its more important sister theatres. That house is entirely gone now. It was torn down for a department store and now is a state office building of some kind. I don’t ever remember being inside the State.
The last downtown RKO theatre was several blocks further south on Broad (Memory a little faulty here as it could have been Warren St.)
which was called the RKO Palace. It wasn’t an important first-run house but it was fairly big and ornate. It also had one of those big marquees. Here again, I don’t remember ever having been in this theatre but I could have.
RKO’s Hamilton and Brunswick were virtually identical neighborhood theatres. They were brick buildings with stately white columns in front, no marquee, just an attraction board that carried a one-sheet. They were colonial in architecture and very much resembled Reade’s Community theatres which folks may remember from Toms River and Morristown, NJ and Saratoga, NY. In fact, these RKO theatres may have been built by Reade and sold to RKO. I seem to remember that. The Brunswick was in extreme north Trenton. I forget exactly which street it was on but it was near John Fitch Way. The Hamilton was far out South Broad Street almost to (or in) Hamilton Township, a suburb of Trenton. Both were second-run neighborhood houses. I think the Brunswick is gone. The last I saw the Hamilton it was a carpet showroom. RKO tried to make the Brunswick an “art house"
(foreign film house)and had some success with it. It was really too big for an intimate art house as both of these theatres would be in the area of 800 seats I would guess.
The last RKO theatre was the Broad, on South Broad Street but closer in to center city. It was a typical neighborhood, a nice theatre that played second-run product. The building is now a CYO hall. The marquee is still there and it’s obvious that it once was a theatre.
The district manager of the RKO theatres in Trenton as well as those in New Brunswick was a very nice man, a good friend of my father’s and, in later years, a good friend of mine. His name was Ed Sniderman.
RKO used to sell "scrip” books which were books of coupons worth certain amounts for admission or concessions. They amounted to a discount. I have two of these books in my souveniers which must be at least 50 years old now.
The other circuit was run by my father. It was called Associated Theatres of Trenton, Inc. My father owned an interest in all of the theatres and various other people owned interests in one or more of them. So he had a lot of different partners in the individual theatres and Associated was like an operating company that my father owned entirely. (At least I think that’s how it worked) I was just a kid and all I really knew was that my old man was the “boss.” My father generally supervised the operation of the theatres, bought film for them and handled their advertising. Usually his partner in the theatre was the day-to-day manager.
Associated had two downtown theatres. The “A” house was the Mayfair which was located on State Street between Broad and Hanover. It also had a large store on State St. which was a rental property. For most of my memory it was a 5 & dime store with a lunch counter. Later it became one of the chain drug stores like Rite-Aid or something similar. The theatre was a beautiful little band-box of about 1000 seats, huge by today’s standards but smaller than average for a first-run in the 50s. Dad bought it from the Mayfair Theatre Corp. of New York who originally operated the theatre as the Orpheum but changed the name to Mayfair. They were located in the Mayfair theatre at 47th St. and 7th Avenue on Times Square which they later sold to Walter Reade and he called it the DeMille. Last I saw it it had been cut up into about 5 little theatres. The Mayfair in Trenton was a first-run house and played all the Fox film, half of the Warner film and some of Disney. As Trenton went down hill, especially after the riots in the 60s when Martin Luther King was assasinated, so went the Mayfair. Downtown was no longer a destination point for the average movie-goer and all of the downtown theatres closed except the Mayfair which made a living as a black exploitation house. It was eventually bought by a Philadelphia circuit called Budco (I was working for them at the time) until we gave it back. My brother operated it for a few years and finally closed it. It sat idle for a few years until one morning the roof collapsed. Of course it was then torn down.
Dad also had the Stacy Theatre on State Street directly across from the Mayfair. The Stacy housed the offices of Associated until it burned in the 60s. It was larger than the Mayfair (guessing 1200 seats) and much older. It was our “B” first-run and played the lower half of the Universal product (Frankenstein, Abbot & Costello, etc.)and mainly action stuff like “Robin Hood” and the like. It was definitely my favorite theatre and was where I caught the movie-business fever that served me so well during my working life.
Both the Mayfair and Stacy had balconies.
Our neighborhood theatres were all typical old neighborhood theatres. In western Trenton we had the Strand which I have already talked about. On Pennington Avenue near Warren (right off the five points for those who know Trenton) was the Rialto. OUt Princeton Avenue toward, but not close to the Brunswick was the Princess, In East Trenton we had the Bijou and the Greenwood and in South Trenton we had the Center Street which was on Center Street. The only one that Dad owned outright was the Rialto if I remember correctly. The rest he owned percentages ranging from 50 to 25%. The Rialto was the first theatre I ever managed. I was sixteen. It was there that I learned that I liked the business but did not like working for my father who was the toughest boss I ever had. All of these theatres were nice but ordinary neighborhood theatres, none of which we built (other than the Strand) but aquired from other people. They were all about 700-900 seats and all second-run. The Greenwood was the nicest of the group. The other 50% owner was a man named Ike Levy and his son Edgar was the manager. After Ike died Edgar took over his interest in the Greenwood and did a wonderful job making it a doll-house of a theatre.
There were a couple of other independntly owned theatres in Trenton and three drive-ins which I’ll get to later as I have to go now.
TC – You asked me to “update” the theatres already in the system and add those that aren’t. As I’m new to the website I’m not sure how to do that. You’re certainly welcome to do it using my information or you can e-mail me and explain how I can do it. – Mike

teecee on May 31, 2005 at 1:37 am

You seem to have a lot of valuable history regarding the Trenton NJ theaters. Can you add the missing ones and update the ones already in the database?
Much appreciated.

MikeH on May 30, 2005 at 5:07 pm

Ken Roe (above) says that the Strand was built around 1916.

Ken: I would love to know where you got this information. You may very well be right but it’s not the information I have. However, my
information may be faulty.

My informaton is that the theatre opened in 1927 as a silent movie theatre which added sound in 1929. It was owned by two men, both from Trenton: Charlie Hildinger and Frank Henry. Charlie was one of the investors who built the downtown Lincoln Theatre in Trenton. Frank was in the real estate business which he left to become the operator of the Strand. (Frank was my father.) Dad was the owner and manager, my mother was the cashier, my uncle Vince was the projectionist and my uncle Charlie was the doorman and all around maintenance man. My brothers and sisters and Charlie’s two sons also had jobs as candy attendants, relief cashiers, cleaners and ushers. The Lincoln, which was a combination vaudeville and movie house and also had a great theatre organ charged 50 cents for adults back in those days. The Strand, strictly a neighborhood movie theatre, charged 25 cents for adults and 10 cents for kids. The first ticket ever sold was bought by an African-American kid for 10 cents. Prior to the on-set of the depression the Strand was not a very successful venture while the Lincoln was very successful. My father often considered throwing in the towel and going back to real estate in which he had done well. But, my mother convinced him to stick with it and, in 1929, when the depression hit, the Strand boomed while the Lincoln (while it survived) fell on hard times. The grosses in the theatre quadrupled and quintupled and Dad made a lot of money. He went on to own two downtown theatres, Mayfair and Stacy and several neighborhoods like the Princess, Rialto, Greenwood, Bijou, Center Street and Olden. He had various partners in all of these theatres and they operated under the corporate name of Associated Theatres of Trenton, Inc. My father was chairman and president and he was the general manager of the theatres. I grew up in the theatre business which became my career of 40 years until I retired as VP of AMC theatres in 1999.
I had always assumed that Dad and Hildinger had built the Strand but I have nothing to point to that tells me that. They very well could have bought the Strand from another operator or bought the building and converted it into the theatre. If you have information about that I would love to have it. Thanks.