Showing 1 - 25 of 26 comments
I remember others talking about a theatre in Ocean Grove but I never
saw it as it was before my time in Asbury Park. Vincent goes back further in Asbury’s history. Perhaps he remembers. Mike H
TC – Thanks for posting that article. There’s some really interesting stuff in it, especially about the Baronet. – MikeH
asburybaronet – Good Luck! I hope you have a great summer. What kind of product are you playing? Commercial? First run? I hope you
keep us posted on how you’re doing. MikeH
Vincent – It was an ok, old-fashioned theatre. It was certainly not a palace like the ST. James or Mayfair. It was much smaller. If it played 70mm I’m surprised.
Vincent – Not sure what you mean by “the 70mm in New York site.” Are you referring to the Lyric in Manhattan? If so, that has nothing to do with the Lyric in AP. I know when I was there the Lyric did not have 70mm equipment. It is conceivable that Reade moved the equipment from the St. James to the Lyric but that would surprise me. By the 70s I’m sure he saw the “handwriting on the wall” as far as AP was concerned. He’d have better use for that equipment than put it in the Lyric. But, who knows? Reade was the ultimate optimist showman. – Mike
Vincent – I wasn’t there in the beginning of the 70s but the only theatre I can think of that would fit your description would have been the Lyric. When I was there it played the first run fare that wouldn’t fit in the Mayfair which meant it got some pretty good product as a rule. By the 70s, with what happened in Asbury Park, I
wouldn’t be surprised to find it had become a dollar house. The Lyric was in the block between the St. James and the boardwalk on the same side of the street as the St. James. I don’t remember the street’s name. – Mike
My job in Asbury Park was assistant city manager and advertising director for South Shore theatres. South Shore meant all Reade theatres from Long Branch through Seaside Heights and Toms River.
It included the Shore Drive-In which is probably where you saw Lord Jim. My duties as assistant city manager was to manage the St. James Theatre and to handle the group sales for SOM at the Paramount and MFL at the St. James.
Both of these attractions were in 70mm and both played exclusively in the entire shore area. If I remember correctly, the closest runs of these pictures was one other in North Jersey, New York and Philadelphia. For that reason, both attractions in Asbury Park played on hard ticket (reserved seats) and both played more than a year. The ticket prices were $3.50 for front orchestra and rear balcony, $4.50 for orchestra and $5.50 loge (which was a smoking loge)and we never had a problem getting those prices. Business was terrific. Weekends were sellouts for every show. Weekdays (Mon-Thurs) saw crowds of 50-60% matinee and 70-80% evenings. Except when it rained during the summer.
One of the city manager’s duties (he was manager of the Mayfair)was to get up in the morning and get the weather report for the day. If it was raining, or even threatening rain, he would call the managers of the other theatres, (there were 5 total at the time)and tell them we were going into rain day mode. The regular commercial houses would run continuously from 9am until a last show around midnight.
These were the Mayfair, Lyric and Baronet. The road show houses, the St. James and Paramount, would run shows at 11am, 2pm, 5pm, 8pm and 11pm if warranted. Nice day schedule was 2pm and 8pm daily.
On rain days the theatres operated in controlled chaos. Lines never stopped. People would wait three hours in the rain for the next show. Money would be removed from the boxoffices in waste baskets and taken to the office where it was stuffed uncounted into bank bags and taken to the night depository under guard. The cash wouldn’t be reconciled to the ticket sales until the next day.
The staff in the commercial houses wore typical uniforms for the day. The manager wore a business suit. But in the hard ticket houses the ushers, doormen and the manager wore tuxedos. The items in the concession stands in the hard ticket houses were upscale items at high prices as opposed to the popcorn, soda, candy in the commercials. At intermission in the hard ticket houses ushers would go up and down the aisles selling orange drink just like the legit houses in New York. The hard ticket houses had a chief of staff and either he or the manager was outside “barking” the attraction and the next show. “Hurry, Hurry, Hurry…get your tickets now for the next showing of "My Fair Lady,” winner of 8 academy awards including Best Picture of the Year! Next show starts at 8 o'clock. We still have seating available in the balcony and front orchestra.“ I still remember the spiel. There I was in my tuxedo and holding a cane!
There are times I don’t believe I did that, but truth be told, I wouldn’t trade those heady, wonderful times for most of my other experiences in this business.
There’s a lot more to tell, like the sandwich men on the boardwalk, the airplanes pulling the banners along the beaches, the magnificent false fronts on the theatres, the dimming of the lights in the auditorium as the overture played and the last people found their seats, the trailers with 24-sheets plastered on their sides being hauled around Asbury and nearby towns. But, I’m afraid the people who run this web site will kick me out if I keep going. It was a great business back then, but those days are gone forever.
Showmanship in movie theatres is dead. I’m glad I retired when I did.
I may have my towns and theatres mixed up but somewhere I thought I heard that the Paramount had a bad fire. I think it was closed at the time. Does anyone else remember this or is my memory playing tricks on me?
MikeRa: Thanks for the information on AMC. I was aware that AMC bought GCC, Loews and Magic Johnson. The way they are advertised in the NY Times leads me to believe that Loews and possibly Johnson still has some interest as the theatre names are hyphenated. I was not aware of the Cineplex Odeon (I assume Canada)or the Star deals.
I’ve heard of Star but I don’t know where they operated. I assume it was a western US circuit? Are you active in the business or are
you getting your information from the trades?
I’m pretty certain that Walter Rosenberg was Walter Reade’s father.
Reade had his name legally changed. Reade, of course, developed the
Walter Reade theatre circuit of which the Savoy was one.
In 1963 or 64 I was promoted to “City Manager” of Walter Reade’s Toms River theatres which included the Community, the Toms River Drive-in on Rt. 37 near Hooper Ave. (Now a shopping center) and the Bay Drive-in which was on Rt. 37 just west of the Seaside Park bridge over the bay. There was no competition for Reade in the town at that time. The Traco Theatre, just a couple of doors down the street from the Community on Washington Street, had burned down a couple of years earlier. The Traco was owned by Izzy Hirschblond, a friend of my Dad’s who was also in the business in Trenton. When I was there we played “split weeks” meaning one attraction on Wed. thru Sat. and another Sun.-Tue. The Community was built with colonial architecture with big white columns in front, paned glass windows looking into the lobby, brick circular walk from the sidewalk to the boxoffice, a white picket fence out front enclosing a lawn and flower bed. On the lawn there was a one-sheet board which was the only advertising for the current attraction, there being no marquee. The theatre looked more like a town hall or a library than a theatre. Reade had other “Community theatres with the same design. One was in Morristown, NJ and another in Saratoga, NY. Years ago he had built the Brunswick and Hamilton theatres in Trenton which RKO took over and they were the same design except that the columns were small and square instead of round and massive like the Toms River venue. After I had left Toms River Reade built the Dover Cinema in a shopping center on Rt. 37, GCC built a triplex in Bricktown and another small circuit built a twin in Bricktown. This was the demise of the Community. It hung around for awhile but it finally closed, I’m not sure when…the late 60s perhaps? The Toms River drive-in was sold because the land it was on was so valuable and the Bay just closed…not sure why. Those were happy days for me in my movie career.
To TC from MikeH – To my knowledge the Strand never had an organ of any kind but (and a big but) my information was that the Strand wasn’t built until 1927 and that may be faulty. If it ever had an organ it was long gone before I got involved with the theatre which was in 1946. Never heard of Frederick R. Parker or David Johnston. That doesn’t mean they didn’t exist or that they didn’t have something to do with the Strand…I just never heard of them. My information is that the Strand opened as a partnership with my Dad and Charlie Hildinger. Finally, the Strand was on the corner of Hermitage Ave and Edgewood Ave. That’s one I’m sure of. Mike H.
dwodeyla: From Framingham to Braintree…see, I knew you were an elite manager! The business has certainly changed, all the magic is gone. At least we had the privilege of working in it when it was a career and not just a job. If you want to work in an atmosphere like it used to be, you have to go find some little theatre in some little town, buy it, fix it up and run it yourself. I often dream of doing just that.
I don’t have much to add about the Baronet. I was assistant City manager of Reade theatres in Asbury Park in 1965 or 1966. The Baronet was the “art” house. The summer I was there the St. James played My Fair Lady all summer long, the Paramount played Sound of Music all summer and the Baronet played two pictures, Pawnbroker and Zorba the Greek. The Mayfair and the Lyric were the straight commercial houses. Back then all of these theatres did really well.
I was assistant city manager for Walter Reade theatres in Asbury Park in 1965 or 1966. At that time the Reade Theatres were the Mayfair, St. James, Lyric, Paramount and Baronet. I was told that the Savoy was also a Reade Theatre but had been closed for some time.
All of the theatres in operation were on or near the Boardwalk. The Savoy, which was in an office building, was blocks from the boardwalk on the main drag.
dwodeyla: “Only” a theatre manager? Being a theatre manager is an important job. I was a theatre manager for years before I began to move up the ladder. My theatre manager years were some of the happiest of my entire career. If you managed the Framingham Cinema in 1977 you must have been a very good manager. That was one of the jewels in the GCC crown. I went to a trade screening of “Jaws” there in 1975 and was very impressed with the theatre. Is it still in operation? I was a Redstone film-buyer at the time.
I casually knew Chuck Mason and knew Carl Bertolino better from his years in distribution. Are you still in the business?
Back in the early 60s the Strand-Plainfield was a Walter Reade theatre and was one of two first-run theatres in the town. The other was the Liberty Theatre owned by an independent operator.
The Strand lasted as a first-run for some time after that but I’m not sure how long. It was fairly unique in those days because it had a women manager. Her name was Ann DeRagon. Reade also had another theatre in Plainfield called the Paramount Art Cinema. It showed art (foreign) film and, because it wasn’t air-conditioned, closed during the summer months. The Paramount also had its own little art gallery/coffee room where patrons could wait for the show to start. It was a very old theatre, looked like a vaudeville house built near the turn of the century. The walls in the lobby were painted with red dragons from floor to ceiling which was about two stories high. The auditorium floor was wood. It never was very successful as an art theatre. Reade kept it open as an outlet for his own art distribution company. The name of the distribution company escapes me right now.
The Strand wasn’t nearly so dramatic but it was a nice theatre. The auditorium was a stadium type. The lobby was wood paneled.
The Plainfield theatres were supervised by a man named Joe Somers and his district also included the Community-Morristown, the Majestic-Perth Amboy and the Woodbridge drive-in-Woodbridge.
The Plainfield Drive-In was originally built in the early 60s and, if I remember correctly, was somewhat unique in that it was an indoor-outdoor theatre. You could watch from your car or you could go into a regular theatre that had a view of the drive-in screen through a large window. When built it had only one screen. If it closed as a twin the second screen must have been added later.
UA may have bought the theatre after it was built but I’m pretty sure they were not the original owner/operators.
dwodeyla – Bill Doren was an executive with AMC. He was not a “partner” although he undoubtedly owned some stock or stock options in the position he occupied. Bill was a really nice guy.
I only met him now and then at company meetings or industry conventions but he was always cordial and helpful. I don’t remember Dan Stravinski. When Stanley Durwood died it left a vacuum at the top of the company and there was something of an internal power struggle to be Chief Executive. My memory tells me that Peter Brown, who was the CFO took the reins. Whether he still holds that position I don’t know. AMC executives were very talented and it was a credit to Stanley that the new leadership came basically from within. Bill Doren may have been one of the casualties of that struggle but I really don’t know. It may be that GCC simply made him a better offer.
Incidentally, I’m pretty sure that GCC filed for Chapter 11, not outright bankruptcy. GCC was a cash-rich company and theatres were not their main business although it was important to them. They probably had more cash on hand than any other company. Why they got themselves in a position of Chapter 11 is probably worth a book. Their demise started before Doren went there. Most major chains filed for Chapter 11 (United Artists, Regal, etc.)the major problem being over-expansion. To AMCs credit they were one of the very few large international chains that didn’t file Chapter 11. As you probably know, AMC now owns GCC.
In what department did you work at GCC? Your one-time head film buyer Frannie Charles was a dear friend of mine who, you probably know, died way before his time. Frannie and I worked together at Redstone Theatres before he went to GCC. – MikeH
dwodeyla – Wow! you threw me for a loop on that one. I was with AMC from 1989 to 1999. I joined them only because I was VP in charge of film buying and advertising for Budco theatres in Philadelphia when AMC bought the Budco circuit. I was then VP for AMC until I retired in 1999,and bought their film in the Philadelphia, New York and Boston film exchanges. The owner (majority stockholder in a publicly traded company) was Stanley Durwood. He really didn’t have any “partners.” He was chairman of the Board and the boss. So, I have no idea who you might mean at GCC. Do you have a name?
I’m new to the website so I don’t know if this is the appropriate place to discuss personalities either. But, as far as I’m concerned, the most fascinating part of the business was the personalities who shared it with me. If this is not the right place for this kind of discussion somebody out there holler! MikeH
RickB – Thanks, when I get time I’ll do that. MikeH
Thanks for the tip. The Trenton Public Library has microphishe (did I spell that right?) of all of Trenton’s newspapers going back to at least the 19th century and perhaps the 18th. One of these days I’ll get up there and spend a day. I have a lot of relatives who lived in Trenton and I’d like to look them up. In the meantime we’ll just leave the founding of the Strand up in the air. I hope you’re the one that’s right. It would be neat to find out that theatre was built circa 1916. That’s the first theatre I ever worked in starting when I was 8 years old. I used to fill the candy machines and go get the projectionist his dinner among other things.
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
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.