17 Livingston Avenue,
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Designed by Thomas Lamb and accommodating more than 2,000 patrons, this Walter Reade-operated theatre opened in December of 1921 with a presentation of the 64-minute silent, “White Oak”, as well as an orchestral performance, a nature film, a newsreel, and five vaudeville acts. After a few years of operation, the theatre was transferred to Keith-Albee and continued to operate as part of the RKO chain into the 1960’s. Eventually, due to declining attendance, it was sold and became an adult film venue, finally closing in 1979.
After being acquired by the New Brunswick Development Corporation and later the New Brunswick Cultural Center and remaining dark for nine years, the theatre received a $3 million dollar restoration. It reopened as a multi-purpose entertainment venue with a performance by the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra on April 24, 1988. It has since served as a centerpiece of the revitalization of downtown New Brunswick.
In addition to occasionally exhibiting classic films such as “City Lights”, the theatre has in recent years hosted performances by Ellen DeGeneres, Kenny Rogers, the Chieftains, Ray Charles, Bill Maher, Fiona Apple, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, George Carlin, the Russian National Ballet, Harry Connick Jr., Morrissey, Bill Cosby, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and B.B. King, among many, many others. The theatre has been a participating venue in both the Black Maria and New Jersey International Film Festivals. Perhaps most importantly to any NJ native, the theatre featured an acoustic performance by Bruce Springsteen to coincide with the November 21, 1995 release of his album, “The Ghost of Tom Joad”.
The theatre generates approximately $4 million dollars in annual ticket sales with attendance of between 275,000 and 300,000. It features two seating levels and currently houses 1,833 seats.
With a $500,000 grant, the theatre’s façade was restored and a new marquee installed in 1998. More recently, the theatre was awarded a $3 million dollar grant from Middlesex County’s Open Space Farmland Preservation and Historic Preservation Trust Fund. A major renovation promising restoration of the interior to its original decor (as opposed to its current Art Deco style, the result of a 1930 renovation) took place in the summer of 2004. A Grand Reopening Gala, emceed by Jay Leno, was on October 3, 2004.
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