Ritz Theatre

46 Washington Avenue,
Carteret, NJ 07008

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Ritz Theatre

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The Ritz Theatre was opened on September 1, 1927 with George Sidney in “Lost at the Front” and 4 acts of vaudeville. It was designed by local architect John Gliva. The Ritz Theatre was closed on January 31, 1965.

Since closing the building has been in use as a clothing factory and later as a bakery. It is vacant in 2014. In 2016 plans were proposed to build a performing arts centre on the site and it was demolished in August 2017.

Contributed by tc

Recent comments (view all 75 comments)

markp
markp on November 28, 2016 at 11:49 am

I was gonna email you about this later. My BA just posted it on our union website.

markp
markp on May 13, 2017 at 12:47 pm

A few weeks ago there were 2 huge genie lifts parked outside the building. I was thinking maybe they were taking molds of the ceiling dome to use in the new building. There are also a few holes cut into the roof. I hope construction starts soon on the new building.

walterk
walterk on August 4, 2017 at 3:40 pm

Regret to inform that this afternoon, 29 days before the 90th anniversary of its opening, demolition of the Ritz Theatre began, with a portion of the stagehouse being demolished. I’ll post some photos later this evening. Renovating/Restoring ought to be removed from its overview, although demolition will not be complete for several more days.

walterk
walterk on August 10, 2017 at 9:53 am

Day two (Saturday) of the demolition removed the remainder of the stage house and the auditorium roof, I posted a few pictures the other day.

After a rainy Monday, work resumed Tuesday with the bulk of the Washington Avenue frontage being removed, leaving only the ground floor portion. Back in the day, this housed the lobby and two retail spaces, the second floor two office suites and a larger central room that was once a meeting room and available for rent. The projection booth was also located in this portion of the structure.

Wednesday saw the removal of the eastern auditorium wall along with the upper portion of the western wall.

Today will be spent removing the massive amount of debris from the former auditorium floor, I am told the remainder of the western wall and possibly the former lobby/retail space will most likely come down on Friday.

I’ll be posting some more photos over the next few days.

markp
markp on August 30, 2017 at 7:51 am

Nothing but a hole in the ground and a pile of rubble. Very sad.

walterk
walterk on August 30, 2017 at 9:39 pm

Markp, as you know I was in town when the Ritz was demolished, and that happened by chance. I grew up a few short blocks from the Ritz and still come east a couple of times each year to visit relatives and friends. I grabbed my camera and took many photos throughout the demolition process, except for the last day. That water pipe replacement project on Washington Avenue took longer than expected and the day the demo was to be completed, they were still digging in front of what was left of the building. So demolition was halted, the crew didn’t even show up, although I was told by one of them demolition would start at 8 and completed by noon that Monday. I stayed a few hours hoping things would change but I had a jet to catch.

Friday will mark the 90th anniversary of the Ritz’s opening. I will be uploading some demolition pictures, along with a copy of the opening ad from the other Carteret newspaper, The Carteret News. I’ll also try write a little about opening night, as the News had a detailed article (as did the Carteret Press) the next day.

I am going to upload one picture tonight that would have an extra special meaning to the two of us. Seems the workers found an old 35mm reel in the debris and set it up on top a pile of bricks close to the fence…

davidcoppock
davidcoppock on August 31, 2017 at 6:38 am

Why was the thatre not just restored and turned into the performing arts centre(cheaper surely?)? Was it not possibly heritage listed?

walterk
walterk on September 1, 2017 at 3:50 pm

90 years ago tonight, Maurice Spewak presented the first show in his new Carteret theatre, the Ritz. Spewak had come to town 11years earlier taking over the Crescent Theatre in the Chrome section of the Borough. He later took over operation of the other local movie house, the Majestic.

These were both small venues built in the early 1910s, and by the mid1920s, somewhat outdated. Spewak realized this and in 1926 purchased 6 lots at the corner of Washington and Cooke Avenues, which was centrally located in Carteret. By August, ground was broken for a new, modern theatre that would accommodate more townsfolk than the other two houses combined. John Gliva, a young local architect who lived a stone’s throw from the construction site, was engaged by Mr. Spewak to design his new venue.

The construction went on through the winter and by the beginning of May, the first tenants of the retail and office spaces (there were 4 of them) the structure also held were able to move in. It would be another four months however, before the auditorium would be ready to host a program. On August 12th, the Carteret News announced that the “new Ritz Theatre” would open the week of September 1st, declaring that the new theatre “will be one of the finest of its size in the state”, going on to say that “no effort has been spared to make the interior decorations as fine and beautiful as the best theatres in the larger cities of the state.” They mentioned that a “massive organ” was currently being installed. They would know, the News was a neighbor of the Ritz, their office and printing plant being only a few yards from the stage door.

The Ritz was fitted with red leather cushioned seats made by Heywood Wakefield. Its stage was small, with less than 20 feet from the plaster line to the back wall and a proscenium opening of just 25 feet. It was adorned by an arch installed, as was all the plasterwork, by the Essex Plain and Decorative Plastering Company. In addition to the “massive organ”, a two manual 4 rank Kloes Unit Orchestra manufactured by the United States Pipe Organ Company (opus 153), the orchestra pit contained 2 pianos, one of them a Webster Baby Grand. Once opened, the 5 piece Ritz Orchestra (led by Harry Spewak, brother of the owner) supplied accompaniment to the silent films. The regular organist was William Staubach, well known in town and a veteran at playing for film, he was hired at least as far back as 1910 by iterant exhibitors when they came to the borough, before Carteret had a theatre and moving picture shows were weekly or twice weekly affairs that played the local halls. Decoration of the auditorium was carried out by Bournet Studios of New York. In the projection booth, Simplex projectors were used for presenting the films, Brenkert spots for lighting performers.

An overflow crowd estimated at 1600 (about 600 more than there were seats) packed the Ritz opening night, filling not only the aisles, but the lobby. Many had to be turned away. Entertainment for the evening was a feature film, the war comedy “Lost at the Front”, a technicolor short, and 4 acts of vaudeville. In addition, there were the opening ceremonies.

William Staubach didn’t play the organ that evening, a professor Gown from the United States Pipe Organ Company who was present to fine tune the system, sat at the console. The event opened with “The Star Spangled Banner”, sung by Mrs. Hughes with Professor Gown on the organ. (Mrs. Hughes was a local resident and public school teacher).

Local attorney Elmer E Brown, the master of ceremonies, then introduced Thomas J Mulvihill, the borough’s Mayor. Mulvihill then, on behalf of owner Morris “Maurice” Spewak , “handed the playhouse over” to the people of Carteret and hoped that the people of the borough would regard the “beautiful edifice with a feeling of communal pride.”

Other speakers that night were Assistant County Prosecutor Francis A Monaghan and State Senator Morgan F Larson.

The last speaker to be called on was Mr. Spewak, who was apparently at a loss for words. After thanking the speakers for their kind words, the local Lions Club and the Carteret Business Men’s Association for the large floral pieces they sent, and of course the patrons for their appreciation, he said “As a speechmaker, I think I am a good builder of theatres.” I think he meant better. And with that, and for the next 37 years, 4 months and 31 days, it was on with the show...

I am also uploading an opening night advertisement from the Carteret News, my thanks to the Carteret Historical Committee for allowing the research that uncovered that, and some of the information used in the above.

markp
markp on September 11, 2017 at 11:38 am

Drove by what was the old Ritz Theatre. They are filling in the hole in the ground that was the basement under the lobby. There is a new construction trailer across the street in the vacant lot. I wonder if this is for the replacement that will be built.

walterk
walterk on September 11, 2017 at 7:48 pm

Markp, I’m guessing that construction trailer is there in connection with the “luxury residential development” with “commercial and office space” that is going to be built across the way, on that empty land that surrounds two sides of the parking garage, “ directly in the heart of the new theater district”. I believe there is an official groundbreaking affair for that project this week, or maybe next.

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