Bon Ton Theatre

45 Newark Avenue,
Jersey City, NJ 07302

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The Grand Opera House was opened September 14, 1891. It was renamed the Bon Ton Theatre by 1896. It became a cinema in January 1916. It was destroyed in a fire on May 28, 1917. At the time of the fire, an article in the New York Evening Telegram states that the Bon Ton Theatre was a motion picture theatre with two balconies and the fire had started inside the theatre.

Contributed by Lost Memory

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Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on December 10, 2014 at 9:10 pm

The June 6, 1917, issue of The Insurance Press said that the loss in the Bon Ton Theatre fire was $75,000, but the June 27 issue of Fire and Water Engineering, which had a more detailed report, said that damage was $12,000 to the structure and $1,000 to contents, with the total value of the building being only $20,000. Other insurance and fire-related journals gave $20,000 as the total value of both the building and its contents.

The January 1, 1916, issue of The Moving Picture World said that the Bon Ton Theatre in Jersey City was switching from vaudeville to moving pictures. The Bon Ton was mentioned in The Billboard in 1908 as a burlesque house. In 1902 it hosted at least one boxing match. The Bon Ton was mentioned in the New York Dramatic Mirror at least as early as 1896. The name Bon Ton was adopted many years before the house became a cinema.

A Liberty Theatre at 47-49 Newark Avenue was discussed in an article on some New Jersey theaters in the January 4, 1919, issue of The Moving Picture World described the Liberty this way:

“The Liberty Theatre in Jersey City, 47 and 49 Newark avenue, a few blocks from the Pennsylvania ferry, attracted our attention and we spent an hour at the afternoon performance. At this particular district there is not very much of a community. It reminded us of the drop-in locations on the rough edges in the old days. It seems that a house of the size and character of the Liberty is deserving a better location. It has a balcony and orchestra containing 800 seats. E. A. Cadugan is the manager.”
I don’t know if the Liberty Theatre operating in 1919 was a replacement for the Bon Ton, perhaps on the lot next door (though addresses are sometimes shifted,) or if it was a neighboring theater that existed contemporaneously with the Bon Ton. However, 1919 is the earliest mention of the Liberty I’ve been able to find. The Liberty was still in operation at least as late as 1928.

Given the fact that the name Bon Ton goes back to the mid-1890s at least, perhaps the Liberty was a different theater that somehow got conflated with the Bon Ton. It might be that the aka doesn’t belong to this house at all. I’ve exhausted the sources available on the Internet, so maybe someone with access to Jersey City newspaper files can solve this puzzle.

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