Ritz Theatre

46 Washington Avenue,
Carteret, NJ 07008

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walterk on December 8, 2017 at 3:29 pm

A few more bits of info about this demolished treasure :

The September 2,1927 issue of the Carteret News had a two-page spread of advertisements and short promo write-ups from the various businesses and individuals that supplied goods or services in the construction and fitting of the Ritz, I mentioned a few of them in the post about opening night. One more mention should go to The Hermann Brothers Construction Company of Carteret who, according to their ad and short promo write-up, supplied the masonry materials used. Looking a little deeper, it turns out that in addition to supplying materials, they also employed the folks to place them, I found records of them bidding on municipal contracts in the area for everything from building bridges to installing sidewalks and paving streets. As no other builder is mentioned in the list of vendors, they most likely built the structure, in addition to supplying the materials. One of the brothers, Joseph, was instrumental in the founding of the borough that is now Carteret, and served many years as its first mayor.

The 1,200 figure for seating mentioned in the overview comes from something I wrote here 4 years ago and based on 3 items in the Carteret Press, one of them the opening night ad. Another of those items claimed it held “about 1,200”. I did later find a mention of that number in the July 22 issue of the Motion Picture News. However that short item also mentioned they hoped to have the Ritz opened by July 15, so the news was somewhat dated.

Since then, I’ve come across 3 other figures, 1,200 being the highest by as much as 200.

The Carteret News mentioned a seating capacity of 1,100 in their write-up of the opening. As I mentioned in a previous comment, The News was a neighbor of the Ritz, its office and printing press located on Cooke Avenue, close to the stage door. It was one of 3 buildings other than the Ritz demolished to make way for the new performing arts center this past summer.

That figure most likely came from a promotional write- up The News ran for local furniture dealer Bernard Kahn, another neighbor of both the Ritz and the News, who furnished the seats. According to that, the capacity of the Ritz was “figured at 1,100”.

The Film Daily Yearbook didn’t mention a capacity until 1932, when it was listed as 1,000. This figure was consistent into the 1950’s.

The final figure comes from September 1930, when Western Electric installed its sound reproduction system. This was the second system for the Ritz, which was originally equipped by mid-1929. An ad by Western Electric in the September 27 issue of Exhibitors Herald World (Ritz at the bottom of the left column) listed over 200 recent installations, including seating capacity for all but a couple dozen venues. It listed the Ritz as having 1,044 seats. Not certain if Maurice Spewak was honest with the techs and gave an exact number, or if counting the house was part of their job, but I’m guessing this was the exact number of seats the Ritz held.

It’s impossible to know why the Carteret Press ad and write-ups mentioned 1,200, or “about 1,200” seats, but less than three weeks later the State Theatre opened in neighboring Woodbridge. Unlike the Ritz, the State was built with out of town capital by people in the theatre business who were good at promotion, promo articles had appeared since early summer talking up the beauty of the new theatre and its 1,200 seats. The Press had an association with the Woodbridge paper, the Independent, the editor of the Press was also the advertising representative for the Independent, which ran the same ad as the Press. These theatres were each other’s closest competition, the bus between the two towns stopped within a half block of each, only about a 10 minute ride. Spewak may've wanted to remind the Woodbridge folks that his theatre was just as large and beautiful as the new one coming to Woodbridge.

Interesting side note, while claiming 1,200 seats in its opening promotions, the State was consistently listed in the Film Daily Yearbook as having 1,000 seats, which is also the number listed on CT. I’ll post more about that on the State page.

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.

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 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.

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 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…

markp on August 30, 2017 at 7:51 am

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

walterk on November 28, 2016 at 10:14 am

The Borough of Carteret has announced a 5 year deal with Comcast Spectra to manage the new performing arts center to be built on the site of the Ritz,here is an article from mycentraljersey.com talking about it.

This press release From the Mayor’s office goes into more detail, here’s a bit from it:

“The 1,600 seat Performing Arts Center will be located on Washington Ave between Pershing Ave and Cooke Ave on the site of the old Ritz theatre. The structure that was the Ritz theatre was converted into a sewing factory in 1965 and then a bakery in the 1980s. It subsequently shutdown operations in 2014 and the property was later acquired by the borough with the intention of restoring the theatre. The Performing Arts Center district will include new residential and mixed-use commercial buildings to be built by private developers that are currently under design. The demolition of the site is anticipated to begin in the Spring of 2017 with the construction to start in the Summer of 2017.”

As mentioned in the comments section over a year ago, it appears the existing structure is to be razed, although I've heard the plaster motif of the Ritz will be used in the design of new venue.

Matt Lambros
Matt Lambros on November 21, 2016 at 1:06 pm

Check out some current photographs and a short write up on the Ritz at: After the Final Curtain

markp on August 12, 2016 at 2:36 pm

Thanks for posting my uncles photo walterk

walterk on August 11, 2016 at 5:07 pm

I’ve just uploaded a photograph of the Ritz Marquee and entrance taken by Anthony Pusillo, older brother of Ritz projectionist Joseph Pusillo, in August of 1945. The picture was donated to the archives of the Borough of Carteret’s Historical Committee, who is kind enough to share it with us, much thanks! Anthony and Joe are respectively the Uncle and Father of Mark Pusillo, who posts to CT.

markp on April 5, 2016 at 10:39 am

In recent days there appears to be some activity going on around the building. It looks like perhaps the old electric service has been disconnected or is being readied for the new project about to get underway.

markp on March 7, 2016 at 11:34 am

Just drove by it today. There is a huge banner hung on the side of the building. It says “Carteret Performing Arts Center” 1600 seat auditorium. Live entertainment and broadway shows. Opening 2018.

markp on October 3, 2015 at 11:41 am

Just heard from someone I know who has spoken to the towns structural engieneer, and sad to report that it will be demolished and replaced with a brand new modern structure. At least they tried to save the old place.

xpa on October 2, 2015 at 12:06 pm

I’m sorry to report that a a study of the structure’s integrity revealed that it would be impractical to save and renovate the theatre. The current plan is to raise the structure and build a new theatre on the site. The new plans hope to include chambers for a theatre pipe organ.

markp on July 12, 2015 at 11:56 am

Yes waltery and you found the old International Projectionist magazine that my father hid, and read many years ago.

walterk on July 12, 2015 at 7:14 am

I’ve uploaded a few photos from MarkP’s and my visit to the Ritz this past Thursday. Much thanks from both of us to Carteret’s Historical Committee and especially Susan Wentzel for arranging this second visit, highlights included discovery of old Simplex parts and a collection of take up reels in the attic above the projection booth.

markp on February 1, 2015 at 4:49 am

walterk, Happy New year. I havent been by the Ritz lately, as I was very sick most of January. My wife said the block across the street from the parking lot has been completely demolished. As the weather warms I will swing by and check on the progress.

walterk on January 31, 2015 at 6:40 pm

Today marks a half century since the Ritz went dark, but its future is looking bright as the earliest stages of restoration/renovation began late last year with removal of the bakery structure which was basically built within the auditorium, leaving it pretty much intact. Remaining sand used to level the floor is still being removed and actual work will begin later this year and as mentioned, finished in 2017. I’ll post more as work progresses, but plans call for among other things an enlarged stage house.

markp on December 29, 2014 at 7:55 am

walterk, I just found another booth shot of Mr Spewak next to the projectors. Im thinking of bringing it to the historical society to scan. I will ask my wife if our scanner still works and then maybe I can get it out to you. If not then I will bring it to you the next time your in the state.

walterk on December 22, 2014 at 6:10 pm

Just added a few more pictures of the Ritz taken last week, more to come. markp, My Aunt remembers your mother, too. Small world it is.