Ritz Theater

46 Washington Avenue,
Carteret, NJ 07008

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walterk on August 16, 2014 at 5:00 pm

markp, I should be back again in December, maybe we can get together then. I had forgotten you mentioned the 1,250 seat figure the Mayor gave for the restored Ritz until I went to see if my comment posted, which reminded me to do a little updating, at least here in the comments section.

The 1,200 capacity mentioned on the overview page was sourced from 2 articles in the old “Carteret Press” newspaper, one from the week before the Ritz opened (“1200”) and one from the day after, describing opening night (“about 1200”) back in 1927. Since then, my ongoing search for info on the various theatres in Carteret and surrounding towns has uncovered two other numbers in trade publications. The Exhibitors Herald-World issue of September 27, 1930 contained a promo for the installation of Western Electric sound apparatus which mentions the Ritz as a recent install, giving the seating capacity as 1,044. The 1945 Film Daily Yearbook lists the Ritz with 1,000 seats. So my original number isn’t written in stone.

Having mentioned 1930 era Western Electric sound projection equipment, here is part of what they were installing that year.

markp on August 15, 2014 at 3:24 pm

walterk, yeah Im sorry too. Would have been nice. I cant wait for your comments.

walterk on August 14, 2014 at 6:56 pm

Thanks for the update, markp. I sort of thought a deal was finalized when I noticed it went off the market recently. If anybody wants to read it, here’s a link to the article you mentioned, and here’s another bit written by the person who wrote the article I cited earlier this year when plans for the purchase were announced. It gives a little more detail but doesn’t archive well, after a couple of months one is expected to pay to read it.

Also markp sorry we didn’t get a chance to meet up, but while I was in the area last month, I spent time in the libraries in Woodbridge and Rahway, also got to meet with the town historian in Rahway. So as time permits, I’ll be posting some comments about all three Carteret theatres, along with the State, Woodbridge Theatre, and one of the old Rahway houses, along with at least one as yet unlisted theatre there, along with some pictures from various locations over the next month or so. Hope you catch them.

markp on August 12, 2014 at 8:52 am

On page 13 of todays Star Ledger, a very small article about the Ritz. Its official, the town has taken title of the building, and now the process of restoring it to a 1250 seat performing arts center begins. Also mentions the 6 screen movie theatre to be built nearby.

markp on July 1, 2014 at 3:32 pm

walterk, I will be doing a union job monday thru friday from 7 to 4 mon thru fri starting july 7. Depending on extra work perhaps we can get together on a weekend.

walterk on April 21, 2014 at 1:04 pm

RkoRoxy, I can add little more than markp has already mentioned, Mayor Reiman’s campaign website does mention “partnering with a regional performing arts group to restore the building to economic viability”. Evidently this will be accomplished with little to no taxpayer money if I am reading it right. I think there is a typo where a 100 seat performing arts center(should be 1,000 I believe) is mentioned, it also appears that the planned 6 screen movie theatre will be attached to the building.

I did get in touch with a borough employee who supplied the scans I uploaded a few weeks back. They don’t seem to be involved with this project however. I did ask if there was some way I could be kept up to date on progress as things move along when I emailed a thanks for the scans, but haven’t heard anything as yet, I’ll post updates as I come across them. I’m sure there will be some local publicity when plans are finalized, you and markp might hear about them in the local media before I do out here in California, in which case I hope you guys will post what’s new.

markp on April 20, 2014 at 5:52 am

Hello RkoRoxy. We know each other. You know me from the local and working together. The only thing I know right now in speaking to people is that the town is in negotiations to buy it. Then they will find a company or corporation who restores. This process may take up to 2 years from what I’ve been told. Im interested in this too, as my father was a projectionist here for years and Im interested in getting on the stage crew.

RkoRoxy on April 19, 2014 at 9:01 am

Walter, would you have any contact information for any of the people involved in trying to restore the theatre? I’m curious about putting a theatre organ back in there if restoration were to happen.

markp on April 10, 2014 at 6:03 pm

Thanks walterk, but of course as luck would have it, Im working both Saturdays in 2 different venues. State theatre New Brunswick this week and the Count Basie next week. Figures.

walterk on April 10, 2014 at 3:42 pm

markp, I came across thisposting on the local to Carteret craigslist for a large indoor/outdoor yard sale being held at the old Ritz building this weekend and next. I doubt they’re selling anything theatrical and the article I recently linked to says there is a dropped ceiling that hides a lot of the old architecture, but you never know what interesting remnants might be viewed. Thought this might interest you if you don’t have a call this Saturday or next.

walterk on April 2, 2014 at 3:10 pm

markp, I mentioned the Basie because the mayor made a comparison to it as what he hopes to do with the Ritz. My mention of UCAC was because it’s next door in Rahway, and while they may have dropped any film series, a group that calls itself Friends of UCAC is showing Night of The Living Dead later this month and doing a Saturday matinee next month featuring a Chaplin movie, cartoons and shorts. Both only 5 bucks admission, and they advertise it as “reel film”. Also next month is a rental that will show a documentary about motorcycle riding, for an extra charge you get to attend a tailgate party in the parking lot. So, maybe not a series, but the old Rahway still gets used for what it was built for on occasion. Same pretty much with the Basie, both houses are still set to show the occasional movie. I’ve read the CT pages for all the old area theatres, some of which I saw movies in, and was aware of your connection to both these houses from the comments.

I did get in touch with the author of the article I linked, who gave me the email address of a borough employee who supplied scans of the pictures I uploaded yesterday, I’m going to be writing them a note of thanks, and find out about being contacted when updates on progress are released. I’m also going ask them to mention that they got an email from someone who hopes that the capability of being able to show an occasional movie is taken into consideration when the renovation is planned. Of course it would sound better coming from people who live in the area and would support such a plan with regular attendance rather than a former resident who hasn’t lived in New Jersey for nearly as long as the Ritz hasn’t shown a movie, maybe that’ll happen… And if you happen to wind up installing those JJ2’s in the Ritz, I’ll fly back and help you carry them up the stairs (disassembled, I would hope).

markp on April 2, 2014 at 4:37 am

walterk, funny how you mention the Basie. I am the house projectionist there. Up until last year we did screenings with 35mm, now we use a digital projector. Not really a fan, but you cant stop progress. As for the UCAC, I also did projection there in the late 90’s/early 2000’s, (as well as its last days as a porno back in the 70’s) but they haven’t done anything in a few years now. New management, new philosophy. And as far as 35mm at the Ritz, well this old timer just happens to have a pair of Century JJ2 35/70mm projectors in his possession.

walterk on April 1, 2014 at 1:34 pm

Well, I’m glad the link worked, markp. I hope you get the opportunity to work there when this project is completed, even better, to project there :–) . To do what they want with the building, we’re talking upwards of $7 million. A screen and a couple of 35mm projectors added would be a drop in the bucket. They might be open to the idea once they find out how successful classic movie series in restored vintage movie houses that are used mostly as performing arts venues are. I’m thinking here of the Basie,or the Union County Arts Center in Rahway,or out where I am now, the Oakland Paramount which has featured classic movies on an almost monthly basis for decades.

As I mentioned awhile back, by profession I am also a stagehand. I’ll be retired before this project is complete, and I do live at the other other end of the country, otherwise I’d entertain the thought of working there. The magic of the Ritz on this young kid was one of the factors leading to my getting involved in theatre. So you can imagine the thrill I feel at the thought of this old venue rubbing the sleep out of its eyes and waking up again.

Check the picture page, I’ll shortly be posting a couple of vintage pictures of the Ritz. I’ll also be posting updates as I hear them.

markp on April 1, 2014 at 5:06 am

walterk, your link worked fine. Perhaps if I just scrolled up a bit and saw it, then my questions would have been answered. Im keeping up on this because, as a stagehand now, Im imagining how neat it would be for me to work there all these years after my father who was the projectionist for many years there.

walterk on March 31, 2014 at 11:25 pm

Markp… I posted a link to an article that answered your questions. I’m new at writing html code and perhaps I screwed it up, so I’ll supply the info.

The article is local, I found it on the Gannett website. If it appeared in the printed media, which I suspect it did, it would most likely have been in the Home News Tribune, which I believe is the paper that would cover news of Carteret. Gannett publishes a half dozen newspapers in New Jersey.

The 6 screen theatre would be, according to the Mayor, “right in the heart of downtown Carteret”. I went by the Ritz and took the pictures I posted here this past December and would imagine he’s talking about the large tract of vacant land just east of the Ritz on the other side of Washington Avenue. Mayor Reiman is hoping to turn the area into a “theater district"and refers to it as such in the article. Reiman is up for re-election this year, there are pictures of the Ritz on both his campaign website and his Facebook page. He hasn’t given a timeline, but is quoted as saying this project should be done "in a few short years”.

As far as the Ritz, I too have my fingers crossed. The first step is to buy the building, and that does seem to be happening. I’ll post updates as I come across them,

markp on March 30, 2014 at 1:07 pm

This is really big news. Fingers crossed. Where was this article written? In a local paper? And where was the talk of a 6 screen movie theatre? In town?

walterk on March 29, 2014 at 9:21 pm

My last post here a couple months back mentioned the Ritz was again vacant and up for sale, jokingly asking if anybody had a spare $600,000 handy for a real fixer upper. Apparently the borough of Carteret does, the mayor announced earlier this month that the process to acquire the building has begun, with plans to refurbish it and open as a performing arts center. Evidently much of the original interior is intact and will be restored. Despite talk of opening a 6 screen movie complex nearby, one can only hope that the occasional classic movie will also get a screening. Regardless, to see the main theatre of my youth come alive in any format that will hold an audience after a half century is somethIng I am looking forward to, even if I do live on the opposite coast these years. I wish them the best of luck, I’ll be there for opening night.

I’m posting a bit of an article announcing these plans, the complete piece with vintage photograph can be viewed here.

Performing arts center planned for former bakery building in Carteret

Mar. 13, 2014
Written by
Suzanne Russell

CARTERET — A former theater that served as a stop on the vaudeville performance circuit in the 1930s appears headed for a new life as a borough performing arts center.

The borough has begun the process of acquiring the recently closed Vallone’s Bakery building, 46 Washington Ave., Mayor Daniel Reiman said Tuesday during his annual State of the Borough address. The building formerly housed the Ritz Theatre.

“Much of the original theatre decor remains in place and it is our intention to restore this building to its former glory and to return live performances to Carteret,” Reiman said during his speech.

Once restored, the performing arts center will house more than 1,000 seats in a fashion similar to the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank or the Mayo Performing Arts Center in Morristown, Reiman said.

walterk on January 31, 2014 at 3:18 pm

49 years ago today the Ritz went dark. About time I gave it a favorite, as it was. Saw my first movie there, countless kiddie matinees and when older, evening shows. Doesn’t seem that long ago somehow.

Maurice Spewak, who built the Ritz, was there to turn off the lights. I wonder how many other venues have had a 37 year run under the same individual, I’m sure there are a few. He and his wife were well known around town, active in various social affairs. Their son Wes coached the Carteret High basketball team quite successfully throughout the 50’s and up until his untimely death in 1965.

Mr. Spewak died in March 1966. His wife sold the building in August of 1967, the new owner retained the offices and retail space, turned the auditorium itself into a clothing factory, tore down the adjacent building for a parking lot. They also punched a hole in the side to build a loading dock. My last look inside came through that door in 1968, I pulled over and parked when I saw it open. The floor was mostly leveled, architecture remained, as did the blue paint.

In 1976 the clothing factory departed, and an Italian bakery moved in, I’m guessing it was around this time that the retail space on Washington Avenue disappeared, I had long since left town.

Recently the bakery has relocated. The building, or at least the auditorium, stands vacant and is up for sale. Anybody with $600,000 handy looking for a real fixer upper?

markp on January 25, 2014 at 7:33 pm

walterk, its not bad. I miss projection though. Stagehand work has taken a toll on me, since Ive had a bad back the past 12 years, probably from carrying all those film cans. And yess, all my relatives went to high school in town. And with 13 of them Im sure you couldn’t miss em.

walterk on January 25, 2014 at 3:06 pm

I’ve recently uploaded a couple of pictures I took of the Ritz while back for a visit last month, along with a couple of old ads earlier today. The ads come from the historic newspaper archive at the Woodbridge Public Library, the person in charge there didn’t mind my posting them to Cinema Treasures and assured me that except for some of the comics, all the papers are in the public domain.

MarkP, I recognized your family name when I first saw it. I think there was at least one of your relatives in high school the same time I was attending, though not in my class. Enjoying stagehanding? Great profession, though I do look forward to retiring from it in the next couple of years.

markp on December 27, 2013 at 5:29 am

WalterK, Thanks for the kind words about my comments. I am very passionate about the old movie theatres and especially one I or my father and uncle (and many others from the old projectionists union) worked in. Although I post about being retired, Im being a bit sarcastic. See Im only 55 and I was put out of work in projection by digital. I have a ways to go yet, and now I work as a stagehand, mostly in Newark NJ Prudential Center. And if it might help you possible remember my father, his first name was Joe and came from a large family in town whose last name started with Pusi. (maybe that helps.

walterk on December 26, 2013 at 12:29 pm

MarkP, thanks for the response to my post, I’ve read some of your comments on other theaters in the area and find many of them interesting, coming from the perspective of someone who has a few family members (including yourself) spanning a couple of generations who worked in some of those venues.

I no doubt saw your Dad during his time at the Ritz, often at matinees we would be lined up before Mr. Spewak arrived to unlock the theatre. I imagine he was one of the 2 people who entered with him.

To add to my previous post, Spewak’s first name was Morris, but news articles also referred to him at times as Maurice. More important is to correct the name of the architect, which I gave as T. Gllivae. This was from an article in the local paper shortly before The Ritz opened. That apparently was a typo. I recently found an earlier article concerning the death of a local man in an industrial accident, Frank Gliwa. It mentions his being survived by a son John, an architect and artist who designed the Ritz which was then under construction. I’m forwarding this info to the update email address for CT so they can change the info on the overview page.

Oh, and congrats on your retirement, something I am looking forward to in the not distant future.

markp on November 27, 2013 at 5:48 am

Very good post WalterK. My dad who was a projectionist there ran the movies on the last night. After that he went to work at the State Theatre in Woodbridge until that closed in 1971, then the Royal in Perth Amboy for a year, and finally back in Carteret to open the Jerry Lewis Twin Cinema in 1972.

walterk on November 26, 2013 at 10:02 pm

I haven’t lived in Carteret in over 44 years, but I have fond memories of the Ritz, I lived only a few blocks from it when I grew up. The owner who someone mentioned looked like Hitchcock was Maurice Spewak. His wife often sold the tickets. I never knew the name of the usher who someone said resembled Lurch from the Addams Family, but I do remember he wore a hearing aid, which was more visible than the compact ones used today.

Mr. Spewak at one point also owned 2 of the other 3 Carteret theaters listed on CT, the Majestic located in the Hill section and the Crescent, located in the Chrome section, both on Roosevelt Avenue. The Crescent is listed on Cinema Treasures as the “New Palace” (it is listed in the 1927 Film Daily Yearbook, as the Crescent, located in Chrome). Spewak built the Ritz to replace these venues, according to a 1926 article in the Carteret Press. He wanted a large modern centrally located theatre to replace the two smaller ones, citing labor costs of operating two houses at the opposite ends of town. He also said it would be better suited to the needs of the public, who would appreciate the modern equipment and conveniences. It’s worth noting that on the same page a few columns over was an article about another theatre to be built in Carteret by a corporation of “local and New York men” who purchased property at Cooke Avenue and Irving Street, which would have placed it around the corner from the Ritz, possibly on the same block. This project never materialized.

The Ritz, which was designed by a T. Glivae, a local artist and architect, who lived a few blocks from the structure he designed, held 1200 and opened its doors on Sept 1, 1927. The bill for the evening included war comedy “Lost at the Front” and 4 acts of “high class vaudeville”. Gone or out of commission by time I started to see movies at the Ritz (mid 50’s) was the “huge organ powered by electric motors” mentioned in the CP article about the opening night. Early on, the Ritz also experimented with vaudeville on Saturday evenings, the idea to expand to other nights if successful.

Hard to say what happened with that experiment from reading the newspapers, as the Ritz, Majestic and Crescent seldom advertised in the local paper. There were a few ads for the Ritz immediately after it opened and mention of occasional benefit shows the Ritz seemed to rent out for, but it wasn’t until 1949 that it began to advertise regularly in the local paper. Meanwhile there were always ads for theatres located in the towns surrounding Carteret.

I recollect they didn’t have a concession stand, I remember buying popcorn from a machine for 10 cents and there was a candy machine. I believe they had a soda machine, but after nearly a half century, I could be wrong about that. Mr. Spewak kept the front half of the theatre closed off, because as someone mentioned, kids threw candy and whatnot at the screen. It was closed at evening shows also, except when the crowd warranted opening it. In regard to mention of possibly a small balcony near the front, there wasn’t one. I think the architecture referred to housed the speakers or pipes for the organ I mentioned (and possibly later speakers for the movies), or could just have been decoration. Their angle wasn’t right for viewing the screen.

Speaking of the screen, the wide screen and sound system that those of us who have posted comments remember were installed in the spring of 1954. Ads from that period also announced that female patrons would receive a hand painted piece of seaspray dinnerware every Monday night.

The Ritz, as mentioned by another contributor, featured movies that already had their initial run, I remember seeing West Side Story with my folks at the Majestic in Perth Amboy and then with my friends on a Friday night somewhat later @ the Ritz. Same with the Beatles first movie which I saw with friends, again at the Majestic, several weeks before it came to the Ritz. I also remember one New Year’s Eve going to see the 10 Commandments with my family. An old ad tells me that was 1958; it was originally released in the fall of 1956. They changed their double bill twice a week at least, kids 35 cents, adults 70. The lobby had numerous displays of coming attractions, each in its own glass case mounted on the walls, most of them featuring glossy publicity photos of scenes.

After a double bill featuring Jerry Lewis as “The Disorderly Orderly” with second feature “Dual of the Titans”, the Ritz closed its doors for the last time on January 31, 1965. I’m basing that on the lack of ads in the Carteret Press after that date, and it jibes with my own recollection that it closed sometime in 1965. Had I known, I would have gone for one last show. It was a part of my growing up, not only the weekend matinees, but later Friday and Saturday nights on some of my earliest dates, or just with my friends and even earlier as I mentioned, occasional shows with my family.

Acherepo, your recollections of the neighborhood brings back memories. I well remember Harrigan’s candy store, though her pinball machine got a lot more of my quarters than did her register for candy. Klein’s had the best collection of comics for sale in Carteret, in addition to a fine selection of models to build, lots of other stuff, the classic mom and pop 5 and 10. Ulman’s bakery wasn’t down the street from the Ritz, rather at the corner directly across, where Atlantic Street ended. Kochek’s Pharmacy was on the other corner. I could go on about other businesses on that street….

Much credit to the Woodbridge Public Library, which has an online archive of the Carteret Press from 1925—65 (also a fine collection of Woodbridge papers), where a little bit of search and research supplied the historical background to this bit.

markp on November 29, 2012 at 9:24 am

acherepo, your description is exactly as my father use to descibe it. As I stated, he was the projectionist here for a number of years, till its closing in the mid 60’s. He then went on to work at the State in Woodbridge, and opened the Jerry Lewis in Carteret in 1972, where I learned the trade. My uncle worked at the Majestic in Perth Amboy, and for a short while after the State closed in 1971, my dad worked at the Royal in Perth Amboy.