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Today’s Philadelphia Inquirer:
fight for the Beach
By Jacqueline L. Urgo
INQUIRER STAFF WRITER
GERALD S. WILLIAMS/Inquirer
Jerry Gaffney hopes his committee can save the Beach Theater from destruction.
CAPE MAY – Preservationists in this Jersey Shore town, where Victoriana has long reigned as the architectural sensibility, are mounting a surprising fight to save a 1950s-era movie theater.
Beach Theatre – built in a Neocolonial Revival style that merged a flashy red neon marquee with Early American lanterns and wainscoting – is as much a part of the colorful fabric of this resort as the 600 Victorian houses that line its narrow streets, according to those looking to save the structure.
“People love this theater. It’s been here for years and it’s a big part of this town, both for the people who live here and for visitors,” said Jerry Gaffney, a member of the board of directors of the Beach Theatre Foundation Inc., a nonprofit group that has collected about 1,300 signatures on a petition seeking to preserve and restore the theater.
The group’s vision for the property, which is just across the street from the Atlantic Ocean, is to create an art-house style theater that would show varied genres of films – including animated, indie and foreign – on its four screens. The dozen or so retail stores and eateries that surround the theater, which was built in 1950, also would be upgraded.
But Frank Investments, a Florida-based entertainment and real estate development company, earlier this year obtained permits to demolish the 860-seat theater and adjacent stores to build an upscale condominium and shopping complex.
Gaffney said preservationists might be able to stave off the development – at least for a year – if the Cape May City Council approved a $100,000 payment to Frank Investments.
The payment would give the foundation control of the theater for a year; in that time, the foundation would try to come up with $12 million to buy the property or find an investor who would agree not to tear down the structure.
A public hearing and City Council vote are scheduled for Sept. 4 at 1 p.m.
Bruce C. Frank, president of Frank Investments, has said that if his company moves forward with the project, it will be “posh, in the Ritz-Carlton style,” providing something that “is missing in Cape May.”
“People want luxury. They want high end,” Frank told the New York Times earlier this month.
Since the 1970s, the town, which in its entirety is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, has followed strict architectural-preservation codes within its downtown district. Home and business owners are required to adhere to historically accurate paint colors, exterior trims, doors and fences.
What has evolved is an enclave of Victorian architecture known nationwide for its numerous bed-and-breakfast inns.
There are signs, however, that Frank may be right about an appetite for the high life.
When a group of investors spent $22 million five years ago to remake the closed Congress Hall into an upscale establishment charging as much as $950 a night for a room, longtime Cape May residents said it wouldn’t fly.
But now Versace-clad New Yorkers and Philadelphians sporting Hermes luggage arrive by the luxury SUV-load for stays booked months in advance. The hotel’s 106 rooms and suites have consistently been booked solid during prime vacation times since the facility reopened in 2002.
“I think since they redid Congress Hall, you really can feel a change in the air when you walk around the [Washington Street pedestrian] mall,” said Terry Wilkins, 48, of North Cape May, whose family has been in the area since the 1860s.
“People are much more urbane, better dressed than they used to be,” Wilkins said. “But I think, in a way, it’s eroding the small-town feel that Cape May always had. I don’t think a lot of people like the word upscale when they hear it used in relation to Cape May.”
Some people simply like Cape May the way it is. A few years ago, officials proposed a parking garage to alleviate congestion, but it didn’t get far.
“We don’t need a parking garage,” said Fred Jones, 77, who has lived in the area his entire life. “Imagine what that would look like here. Talk about ruining the character of the place.”
Those fighting for Cape May’s lone movie house also talk about the town’s unique character.
“It’s a David and Goliath situation when it comes to the idea of preservation vs. condos,” said Lelah Eppenbach, executive director of the Beach Theatre Foundation. “But it’s a defining moment for the town, and I think that people are in favor of saving the theater. There’s a lot of potential there, and I think people realize you can upgrade the space without completely demolishing the theater and building condos.”
well informed sources inform me that the AMC Orleans will close soon (within a month or so?) for demolition, to be replaced by a Target.
Vince, I would look forward to reading your own movie theater reviews on these pages! We shouldn’t expect local magazines to be as expert as you are!
also from theater’s website (which also features year by year which films have played!)
The Newtown Theatre has an extensive history dating back to 1831. It is, in fact, the oldest movie theater in the United States with it’s first movie being shown in 1906. Originally built to be a hall for town gatherings and a “non sectarian” church for traveling ministers, it soon became a center of entertainment in Newtown.
By the early 1850’s the “Newtown Hall” (As it was then called) was used regularly for performances. These ranged from social dances to concerts, to theatrical productions, and magic lantern shows . In 1883, the building was reconstructed, larger than the first, and designed with stage performances in mind. However, a fire escape from the balcony was not added until 1904.
In 1906 the first movie was shown. In 1936, the interior of the building was redone and new equipment was purchased to enhance the movie-going experience. With the coming of Television and modern movies, Newtown Hall movies were becoming outdated. Rescued in 1953 by the Newtown Community Welfare Council, who now serve as trustees, the little theatre survives complete with the flavor and posters of a bygone era. In 1972, Amos Farruggio, a movie buff and licensed projectionist, rented the hall from the Council, spruced it up, and kept the theatre alive in Newtown until his death. The theatre was then ably run by his wife, Mrs. Farruggio until her death in June of 2005.
Change came again to the theatre on April 29, 1999 when after years of use one of the Theatres old Carbon Arc lamps broke, and the old two projector system was rearranged to accommodate a newer xenon lamp system, and a platter, no longer will the projectionist have to change from machine to machine every 20 minutes, but all things being equal, the original flavor of the theatre still remains.
The old play props are now covered with dust behind the screen at the Newtown Theatre, relics of another era…
The theatre had Air Conditioning installed in 2002 for the Gala showing of “Signs” that was filmed in part in Newtown. The theatre now has upgraded sound with the installation of Sony SDDS and DTS, and recently updated the older optical sound system to a Red Light Reader to accommodate the newer film formats.
Movie Screen Size:
24 feet 3 inches wide by 10 feet 9 inches (Scope)
19 feet wide by 10 feet 9 inches (Fixed flat masking in place)
Projector Gate to center of the screen 56 feet
from Edge of Balcony to center of the screen 40 feet
Simplex E7 35 mm
Orchestra 274 Seats
Balcony 82 Seats
Total 356 Seats
Yes, years ago, none of us Philly natives what have believed it!
Yet, that’s reality, and why starting last weekend, and this past weekend, I added 13 multiplexes/megaplexes in Philadelphia & its burbs (on the PA side) to this site including this theater. All the others in the newspaper on the PA side had already been entered.
of course, this is also good reason to ensure the Boyd www.FriendsOfTheBoyd.org is restored and reopened including for movie premieres, film classics & film festivals, and live shows the rest of the year. Many people experience movies in stadium seated auditoriums in plexes, but people should still be able to experience them some time during the year in Golden Age Hollywood style movie palaces!
I really enjoyed reading the name origins posted by Joe.
Eddie, in regard to these two theaters, you may be correct. This one continues to be very well patronized, much better per seat than the Orleans. I’ve not heard of any other in the Philly area with a 590 seat auditorium and 61 feet wide screen, and this one has two such auditoriums!
However, the magazine’s evaluation of many other theaters (and I posted most) seems to have been on point. Of course, it may be time for a new evaluation by the magazine especially since some theaters like the Bridge and UA King of Prussia weren’t then open, others have changed hands, etc.
Nah, there’s a photo of it being demolished and a Feb 24, 1984 letter to the editor of Philadelphia Inquirer by Irvin R. Glazer reprinted (and referring to the photo) on back cover of 3rd Q 2003 Marquee of the Theatre Historical Society of America. It would be improper if I scanned & posted it, but as a THS member, I can tell you that most of the back issues are avail for purchase. THS has its own website. That issue has an entire section on the Goldman including the Stairway image which I posted above. (independently of THS, I have an original print of the Stairway image). Gorgeous photos of some Philadelphia movie palaces, and write-ups, are also in the same issue.
There’s an Alex film society hosting a film series at the Alex.
The Rialto isn’t a moviehouse either anymore. It is a closed vacant building. And, unless it is chopped up into small auditoriums, it won’t likely reemerge as a daily moviehouse!! People dreaming that the Rialto will reemerge as a restored single screen daily moviehouse like the Castro can keep on dreaming, but it probably isn’t going to happen. If people don’t want to see the building demolished or used for non-entertainment purposes, then other solutions including mixed entertainment use (concerts, shows, etc) might be considered.
There are still movies at the Alex, and even more at the Warner Grand (foreign films, classics, etc) so people can still sometimes enjoy films in an authentic Golden Age Hollywood movie palace. Live shows help to pay the freight. Nonprofit status helps in those two theaters.
The June 1999 Philadelphia Magazine rated the UA Main Street 6 a “3” on a 1 to 5 scale with comment: “Manayunk deserves better” A high rating was awarded in the Seating category. Instead of the characterization “First-run mainstream” applied to other mainstream moviehouses, the term “Lame mainstream” was used.
From November 2006 Philadelphia Weekly:
Most Hit or Miss
If you catch a flick on one of the United Artists' Main Street 6’s two giant screens, you’re in for an enveloping treat. If you get stuck in one of its four smaller houses, well, you’re screwed.
Kram, I’ve read a bit about the Alex, but am not the best person to compare its interior to the Rialto. On vacation from Philadelphia, I have seen movies at the Rialto, and at the Warner Grand,(and visited dozens of historic LA area moviehouses) but the Alex I haven’t been to. The Alex was restored as a nonprofit, and was never a huge movie palace but was a nabe theater like the Rialto, so I made my suggestion.
Can somebody in LA answer Kram’s question?
June 1999 Philadelphia Magazine rated the UA Riverview 17 as a “3.5” on a 1 to 5 scale with comment “Best Center City mainstream choice – for now” Very high ratings were given in the categories of Seating and Cleanliness.
Philadelphia Weekly November 2006
“the poor old UA Riverview can’t seem to ditch its negative image despite two enormous screens that, along with the main theater at the Ritz Five, are the best venues to see a movie in town.”
Because the main floor auditoriums changed with the addition of the 2nd floor & stadium seating, I waited for the Comments to mention a Feb 2, 1997 Philadelphia article, page A 22. The then General Manager, Ron Angeli, described the largest auditorium as follows:
The screen is huge: 41 feet wide and 18.5 feet tall. The action blasts out of a 2400 watt Surround system that includes 3 stage speakers with horns, 8 on the sides, and 2 in the back. 457 seats.
(My own note to above would be that the main screen at the Sameric, aka Boyd, that United Artists was then operating in downtown Philadelphia, was larger, at more than 50 feet wide.)
The June 1999 Philadelphia Magazine rated the County a very high “4” on a 1 to 5 scale, with comment “Bucks County’s answer to the Ritz. Best Bucks art-house choice.” Highest possible ratings were achieved in the categories of Cleanliness and Service, and very high rating for Seating. For movie Selection, whereas Ritz and Roxy theaters in Philadelphia were specified as “Art-house and indie” the County was stated as “Highbrow fare”
I will add that the movie selection is always top of the line arthouse.
The June 1999 Philadelphia Magazine rated the AMC Woodhaven 10 a “3.8” on a 1 to 5 scale with comment “Across the road from GCC Franklin Mills and just as nice.” (that’s now AMC Franklin Mills). Highest possible rating was achieved in the Seating category, and very high ratings for Cleanliness and Screen & Sound.
The June 1999 Philadelphia Magazine rated the UA Oxford Valley a very high “4” on a 1 to 5 scale with comment “Best of Bucks mainstream theater choices” Highest rating was achieved in the Cleanliness category and very high ratings in the categories of Screen & Sound, and Seating.
Despite the comment, an even higher rating was awarded the Regal Barn Plaza 14.
The June 1999 Philadelphia Magazine rated the Regal Barn Plaza 14 a very high 4.5 on a 1 to 5 scale, with comment “Still has that new-car smell.” Highest possible rating was achieved in the categories of Seating and Cleanliness, and very high ratings in the other categories: Screen & Sound, and Service.
This was the highest rated theater in Bucks County, and higher than almost all theaters rated then in the Philadelphia area.
June 1999 Philadelphia Magazine rated the AMC Neshaminy 24 a “3” on a 1 to 5 scale with comment “One of county’s busiest, and the wear and tear shows.” Highest possible rating was achieved in the Seating category, and very high rating for Screen & Sound. The “Service” rating was lower than any other in the Philadelphia area.
The June 1999 Philadelphia Magazine rated the Ritz Five a “3.8” on a 1 to 5 scale, with comment “Screening rooms are small and tight, with thin walls, but this is still the best art-house choice downtown.” The highest possible rating was achieved in the Seating category, and a very high rating in the Cleanliness category.
The June 1999 Philadelphia Magazine rated the AMC Orleans 8 a “3” on a 1 to 5 scale, with comment “A former cutting-edge theater that has dulled considerably.”
The June 1999 Philadelphia Magazine rated this theater (then a GCC) a 3.8 on a 1 to 5 scale. The highest possible rating was achieved for Seating, and very high ratings for Screen & Sound and Cleanliness. Comment was “Big hair and big attitudes, but not the worst place to see a movie in the Northeast”
By Northeast, the magazine means in Northeast Philadelphia.
On a 1 to 5 scale, the June 1999 Philadelphia Magazine rated this movie theater a very high 4.3 with Comment that it has “All the lastest bells and whistles” It received the highest possible ratings in the categories of Screen & Sound, Seating, and Cleanliness.
On a 1 to 5 scale, June 1999 Philadelphia magazine rated this theater a “4” with comment “Brand-spanking new” It received the highest possible rating in the Screen & Sound category and very high for Seating and for Cleanliness.
Exterior photo here on this realtor’s site: