100 South Street,
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The Community Theatre was opened by Walter Reade in late-1937 with the exhibition of the Carole Lombard, Frederic March comedy “Nothing Sacred”. The 40-foot tall building, fronted by four white Corinthian pillars in a Greco-Roman style, was built to show movies though, for a time in the late-1940’s, it also hosted big band performances. Operated by the Reade organization until being sold in 1974, it went through several owners before going dark in the 1980’s.
When, in February of 1994, the conductor of St. Petersburg’s Kirov Orchestra visited the facility, he was witness to a dilapidated building in which the lobby ceiling had collapsed, there were broken seats sitting in piles, and mushrooms were growing in the balcony. However, after stepping foot on the stage and clapping his hands to test the acoustics, conductor Valery Gergiev agreed to have the Orchestra perform in the theatre as part of the Morris International Festival of the Arts, which had a short-term, rent-free lease on the space. Between that visit and the musical performance on September 29, 1994, nearly 300 volunteers scraped, cleaned, and painted the theatre in preparation.
In 1995, the South Street Theater Company was formed by Don Jay Smith and Lisa Smith, one of four couples who had speared-headed the volunteer effort. The organization purchased the theatre for $1.2 million in that year (after the previous owner had paid $2 million just eight years earlier). In the years since, the theatre, with its 1203 plum-hued seats, has operated as a not-for-profit performing arts venue. Having featured performances by such luminaries as Bob Newhart, Tito Puente, Vienna Choir Boys, Joy Behar, B.B. King, George Winston, Richard Lewis, Ray Charles, the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, Vanessa Williams, Paula Poundstone, Chuck Berry, Judy Collins, and Kathy Griffin, the theatre has received grants of $500,000 from Warner-Lambert Pharmaceuticals and $250,000 from Novartis. The South Street Theater Company, with the assistance of CEO A. Dale “Bud” Mayo, the founder and former owner of Clearview Cinemas, has raised enough funds to undertake implementation of a master plan designed by Michael Schnoering of the Princeton-based architectural firm of Ford, Farewell, Mills, and Gatsch, which has been involved in the restoration of several historic theaters. The $4 million, Phase 2 of the master plan, to be completed within a year, calls for the addition of a 3000-square ft. glass and limestone third floor. The new space will be utilized for receptions, seminars, and rehearsals. Phase 3 calls for addition of dressing rooms (the theatre currently houses only three), offices, and a loading lift system to get equipment to the stage level.
With an annual operating budget of $3.2 million and annual attendance of 90,000+, plans also call for addition of a bar in the balcony lobby and replacement of the theatre’s stage. The Community Theatre is reported to have some of the best acoustics of any musical venue in New Jersey, with no dead spots.
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