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From today’s (08/19/08) NJ Star-Ledger
An old star preps for new role
Montclair’s historic Wellmont Theater is reopening this fall as a concert hall
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
BY PHILIP READ
Scaffolding surrounds the old Wellmont marquee, a clear sign of change coming to the historic theater in Montclair.
For months, workers have been tearing away at the interior walls, revealing a grand 1922 stage ob scured for decades by the screens of a shuttered triplex movie house.
A $3 million renovation is lurch ing forward for a fall premiere of the Wellmont as potentially the next major suburban concert hall in New Jersey.
“It’s going to be beautiful when it’s done,” said Robert McLoughlin, Montclair’s chief construction code official, of the 2,000-plus-seat theater. “It’s going to be gorgeous,” he said.
The windows, doors, roofing, restrooms and stage will all be new.
“These guys are doing a full restoration. They’re removing all the (exterior) brick that’s in bad shape,” McLoughlin said. “They’re really doing it right. It’ll look as much as it did in the old days as possible.”
The look of what is now a peel ing marquee is still a question mark, however.
“Don’t have a direction on that just yet,” said Andy Feltz, who once organized concerts for New York’s Beacon Theater and has now teamed up with Michael Swier of The Bowery Presents to bring the Wellmont to life.
Feltz, who as the managing partner of Montclair Entertain ment LLC and a Montclair homeowner is the concert-promoter’s man on the ground, spoke as the theater’s ornate columns were halfway into getting a coat of primer.
“We’re going to follow that color scheme as close as we can,” Feltz said. “Just a little more gold. Gold makes it look nicer.”
Feltz is mum about the headlin ers, saying the first season’s performers will be unveiled in the middle of next month. But some acts have already blocked out concert dates at the Wellmont, at least tentatively.
Hanson — the pop-rock band composed of brothers Isaac, Tay lor, and Zac Hanson and best known for the 1997 hit “MMMBop” — is listing a Nov. 1 concert date at the Wellmont; Al Green, the R&B artist whose hits in the 1970s included “Let’s Stay Together,” has listed a Nov. 22 show; and Get The Led Out, described as the ultimate Led Zeppelin experience, has a Dec. 6 booking.
In March, Montclair Entertain ment signed a long-term lease for the theater with the Rosen Group, which had just closed on the $1.5 million acquisition of the shuttered triplex off the downtown shopping strip.
The Rosen Group, a commercial real-estate company in New York, acquired the theater from Steven Plofker, a Montclair attor ney and developer who is married to cosmetics maven Bobbi Brown.
The deal included a liquor license; its separate $750,000 price tag set a record for Montclair.
The drinks will be served at three bars behind the main level’s orchestra section, which is being revamped into tiers that will allow for standing room, table seating or rows of seats, a flexible arrange ment for the “ballroom floor.”
In the balcony, concertgoers will be watching the acts from 1,000 new seats.
Brian Swier, along with Michael Costantin of Conklin Costantin Architects LLP, is part of the architectural team. He’s also the brother of Montclair Entertainment LLC’s Michael Swier, who made a name for himself with The Bowery Presents.
Next door to all the hustle of the final weeks ahead of the premiere is the Chinese restaurant Sesame, where Sue Sein and her husband, Alexander Lee, have been hosting Wellmont workers and construction workers for the occasional meal.
One of them, she said, tipped his hand about another headliner. “I’m going to get Peter, Paul and Mary,‘” she quoted one of the diners saying of the 1960s group that topped the charts with “Blowin’ in The Wind.” “Maybe, they were just teasing me.”
Across the way, at Alan’s on the Avenue Gourmet Delicatessen, owner Alan Bispo said he is looking forward to an economic boost from what he has been told will be a “first class” operation. He has been crafting sandwiches carrying the names of Montclair streets for 21 years, and lately business hasn’t been great.
“This is the quietest year I’ve ever had,” he said.
He’s willing to stay open beyond his usual 5 p.m. closing time to cap ture some business, he said, and he’s already rethinking his menu.
“Maybe we should just get a ‘Wellmont’ sandwich,” he said.
Philip Read may be reached at
Curtain falls for East Orange multiplex theatre
Hollywood Cinemas had $2 million spruce-up in'05
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
BY KEVIN C. DILWORTH
Nearly two years after developers pumped an estimated $2 million into renovating and reopening the once famed Hollywood Theatre in East Orange, the renamed Holly wood Cinemas multiplex on Central Avenue is out of business.
In place of listing the films “Resident Evil: Distinction,” “Halloween,” “Rush Hour,” “Shoot ‘Em Up” and “Dragon Wars” that were being shown there through Sunday, only a single word was listed yesterday on the small black and white marquee: “Closed.”
The large glass movie display cases along the Italianate-styled building’s Central Avenue facade were empty, and it was dark inside the ticket booth and lobby.
The movie house’s sudden and unexpected closing — apparently linked to a lack of moviegoers to the 935-seat, five-theater multiplex, just west of South Harrison Street — caught people by surprise.
“The city is saddened to learn of apparent troubles of the theater,” city Administrator Reginald Lewis said.
“In light of the Hollywood’s im portance to the economic vitality of the Central Avenue business district, the mayor (Robert Bowser) and I will meet with the owners this week, to discuss possible op tions.”
Richard Eineger, a spokesman for the company who helped guide the theater’s reopening in December 2005, and who helped the city itself co-sponsor two annual “Walk of Fame” ceremonies that honored living and deceased celebrities who once called East Orange home, referred inquires about the closing to Edmondo Schwartz.
Schwartz, a co-developer and investor in New York City, could not be reached for comment about the fate of the 1925 theater.
Eineger would only confirm that the Hollywood Cinemas’ last day for showing films was Sunday.
The Hollywood made American history on May 16, 1940, when it was the site of the world premier of “Edison the Man,” a biographical film about famed inventor Thomas Edison. Some 5,000 people braved a wind-swept rain storm and converged on the locale that night to catch a glimpse of legendary actor Spencer Tracy and his co-star Rita Johnson, both of whom participated in a red-carpet personal ap pearance there.
When theater-going waned and ticket receipts dropped, the Holly wood Theatre closed for the first time in late 1985 after showing the Arnold Schwarzenegger film, “Commando.
The Hollywood was targeted for a comeback 20 years later, when Schwartz hired demolition crews to gut the theater by removing 1,629 worn and water-damaged seats, the tattered carpeting, dry-rotted draperies, plaster columns, molding, mezzanine-level projection room, inoperable air conditioner, large stage and dressing rooms, and the street-level ticket booth.
The building’s hole-filled roof was replaced and 4,500 tons of new steel beams were installed throughout the structure. A new mezza nine was created to house the theater’s projection room, as well as a 17-foot-wide vestibule, a 100-foot-long lobby and a 24-foot-long concession stand.
Even the building’s red Spanish-tiled roof was spruced up, as was the structure’s ornate dentil- style molding and its pressed-cop per decorative facade.
The theater was reopened amid much fanfare and hopes that it would serve as an anchor to the business strip once known as the "Fifth Avenue of New Jersey.”
“We thought they were doing fairly well,” said Mitchell Williams, the owner of the Debonaire Mens Wear clothing store on Central Avenue, about Hollywood Cinemas.
Williams, who also serves as president of the Central Avenue Special Improvement District (CASID) group, said he was unaware that it had closed.
In fact, members of the Central Avenue Special Improvement District have “been working diligently to see that Central Avenue continues to improve and develop,” Williams said. “That is part of our development strategy. The Holly wood Theatre was really like an anchor to us.
"People could come there to the theater, and walk down the avenue to do some shopping,” Williams said. “I’m really disappointed and surprised that it is closed.”
When contacted by telephone, neither city council chairwoman Quilla Talmadge, who represents the city’s Third Ward and heads up the city’s 10-member governing body, nor Councilman William Holt, a 4th Ward representative, said they knew about the clos ing.
“It’s shocking, especially since it happened without any warning,” Holt said.
Low attendance might have been the problem there, Holt sur mised.
On many week nights, the theater’s small parking lot looked very empty. In recent months, the movie house was only open in the evenings.
“I will see what’s what,” Holt promised. “I hope there is something we can do to get it back open.”
Raymond Scott, president of the East Orange Chamber of Commerce, was equally stunned.
“I had no idea they were closing,” Scott said. “That’s awful. And we were just getting ready to launch a major street facade improvement program along Central Avenue. It (the theater’s closing) is certainly not in keeping with what we have going on in East Orange.”
The curtain finally falls on Orange’s Embassy Theatre
Friday, October 28, 2005
BY KEVIN C. DILWORTH
One of Essex County’s last great movie palaces of yesteryear — the long-closed 2,073-seat Embassy Theatre on Main Street in downtown Orange — is being demolished.
Chunk after chunk of brick, mortar, steel and assorted metal, plasterboard and seating are being ripped up and carried out by workers razing the rear portion of the elaborate theater.
After years of failed attempts to get someone to transform the circa-1925 movie house into a multiplex cinema, a retail center and a small professional theater, nothing materialized. The decision was made to raze the structure and create a much-needed parking lot for Orange’s thriving Main Street, Dennis Monasebian, the property owner, said yesterday.
Like many other big movie houses of the past, “it was very attractive, but it became functionally obsolete,” said Monasebian of Armonk in New York’s Westchester County. “With nothing else to do with the property, we just had to take it down.
"The trouble is that buildings like this that were built 70 or 80 years ago don’t work anymore, unless they are in a densely populated area, like Manhattan or Newark,” Monasebian said. “It’s kind of a shame. The inside was beautiful at one point.”
The Embassy’s two huge crystal chandeliers are long gone. One is now at the Highlawn Pavilion restaurant on Eagle Rock Avenue in West Orange — as is the mural that towered above the balcony section of the movie house.
The marquee above the theater’s original entrance at 349 Main St. was taken down around 1990. Monasebian said he has the Embassy’s 3-by-12-foot sign and two original movie projectors. The Shannon & Nesbeth Hair Studio and Orange Unisex Nails — two separate storefronts — now occupy the space that once served as the Embassy’s elongated entranceway and concession stand.
For the past week, those passing by the demolition site — on the South Essex Avenue side of the building — have stopped by to share personal memories of the movie house, Monasebian said.
“Because this was the only theater in Orange, everyone who was a certain age went to see movies here,” Monasebian said. “Many people have stopped by to point out a spot in the theater where they had their first date and where they shared a kiss. It’s been very entertaining to hear all that.”
The building closed sometime in the mid- to late 1970s.
Orange resident Anthony Monica of Lincoln Avenue said he fondly remembers going to the Embassy as a child in 1948 to watch films such as “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein” and “Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man” in 1951.
“A great attraction there was the vending area, where they sold everything from popcorn and Jujyfruits candy, to licorice and (ice cream) bonbons,” Monica recalled. “The other good thing about the Embassy was that they never went to X-rated movies there. They always showed family-oriented films.”
In 1952, the Oranges, Maplewood and Livingston had 13 theaters that lured moviegoers with the latest films of the day.
Today, only the 1926-built Maplewood Theatre, across the street from the NJ Transit rail station in Maplewood, remains as a first-run film showcase. It closed in 1985 and later reopened as a multiplex.
In East Orange, residents and officials are awaiting the long-delayed grand reopening of the Hollywood Theatre on Central Avenue, where a $1 million-plus renovation has led to its transformation as the five-plex Hollywood Cinemas.
Following is a list of the 13 movie houses that operated in the Orange area a half-century ago. Some have been converted to other uses. An asterisk denotes the building was demolished.
The Ampere Theatre, 237 N. 18th St. in East Orange
The Beacon Theatre, 129 Main St. in East Orange
The Cameo Theatre, 117 S. Orange Ave. in South Orange
The Colony Theatre, 21 E. Mount Pleasant Ave. in Livingston
The Embassy Theatre, 349 Main St. in Orange
The Hollywood Theatre, 634 Central Ave. in East Orange
The Lido Theatre, 315 Washington St. in Orange
The Maplewood Theatre, 155 Maplewood Ave. in Maplewood
The Ormont Theatre, 508 Main St. in East Orange
The Palace Theatre, 4 Main St. in Orange (with a portion in East Orange)*
The Pix Newsreel Theatre, 139 Main St. in Orange
The State Theatre, 582 Valley Road in West Orange
The Windsor Theatre (first known as the Llewellyn, then in 1936, for one year, as the Edison), 250 Main St. in West Orange
Kevin C. Dilworth covers East Orange, Irvington, and Orange. He may be reached at kdilworth@starled ger.com or (973) 392-414.
Â© 2005 The Star Ledger
Â© 2005 NJ.com All Rights Reserved.
Here’s the latest update. As a former resident of East Orange, I remember!
Old star of stage and screen transformed into multiplex
Sunday, October 31, 2004
The Hollywood Theatre is coming back to life in East Orange.
A major transformation is under way inside the Italianate-style building that has a red Spanish-tiled roof and ornate pressed-copper facade. After 20 years of being boarded up, a New York City developer has steel workers, electricians, masons, roofers and laborers working in and around the once-famed movie house — at 634 Central Ave., near the Orange border — for a grand reopening.
That will happen in three to four months. Developer Edmondo Schwartz is pumping about $1 million into creating what will become his dream-come-true multiplex: the Hollywood Cinemas. The five cinemas will have a total of 944 seats, including 27 set aside for the handicapped. And a new marquee — to replace the one dismantled over the building’s former eastern entrance, close to South Harrison Street — will be installed on the building’s western end. That is where a new entrance, vestibule and ticket office are being created.
In the days before television, VCRs, video rentals and DVDs, the Hollywood Theatre was the last of four great movie houses in East Orange. Constructed in 1925, the grand Hollywood Theatre featured ornate plaster columns, decorative molding, plush maroon seats and carpeting, a mezzanine-level projection room and bathrooms, a large stage and dressing rooms, a street-level ticket booth, and a 16-ton air conditioner that kept the 1,629-seat theater cool. Many of the building’s exterior physical characteristics will remain the same, but 18 workers are busy replacing the hole-filled roof, removing heavily water-damaged plaster, gutting the three ground-level stores that once existed there, installing 4,500 tons of new steel beams, creating a new mezzanine to house the theater’s projection room, a designing a new 17-foot-wide vestibule, 100-foot-long lobby and 24-foot-long concession stand.
The building’s original stage — where movies were shown on the silver screen, and where music acts, including R&B and soul acts from the 1960s and 1970s, once performed — will be transformed into the Hollywood Cinemas' only non-stadium-seating theater. It will be a conventional theater, with 159 seats, including four for the handicapped.
To coincide with the Hollywood’s rebirth, Bowser said, the city also is planning to work with an architect to create a “Walk of Fame” sidewalk — similar to the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles — to honor some of the great personalities and celebrities who either lived, worked or passed through in East Orange. The city has a rich history. Singer-entertainer Dionne Warwick comes from East Orange, as does singer Whitney Houston, actor John Amos, and actress/rap singer/record company executive Dana (Queen Latifah) Owens. East Orange also was home to the late movie actress Joan Caulfield; singer/actor Gordon MacRae of “Oklahoma!” and “Carousel” fame; the late country pop singer Eddie Rabbitt; and even movie actress Bette Davis. Davis, a two-time Academy Award winner, lived in a now-demolished house on the southwest corner of North Arlington Avenue and William Street while she briefly attended East Orange High School as a teenager, and Clara Maas, famed nurse heroine who died during a 1901 experiment to see if yellow fever was caused by the bite of mosquitoes, used to live with her family on Main Street.