State Theater

61 Van Houten Street,
Paterson, NJ 07505

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This theater is on Van Houten Street, off of Main Avenue in downtown Paterson. You can tell from the shape of the exterior that it was a theater, with the tell-tale stage housing at the back of the building.

The most unique aspect of the facade is a fading sign on the side wall which says “Orpheum Theater – Classy and Refined Burlesque”. It also says something about special matinees, but it’s been a while since I saw it. (Uncle Floyd, a local celebrity and comedy historian, told me an interesting story. As a youngster, he spent lots of time in downtown Paterson throughout the 1960’s. One time when he passed the theater, he found boxes of old photographs in the garbage outside the building. They were original publicity photos of the acts that had played the Orpheum in the 20’s and 30’s. Among them were Joe Besser, Sydney Fields and Lou Costello.)

They were working on the interior last year, and I walked in and spoke with one of the workers. We were in the space that would have been the stage, and you can’t tell from the inside that it had been a theater. All of the walls were sheet-rocked and a drop ceiling was in place. Apparently, for many years, it was used as a store. The worker had no idea it had been a theater, and it was being converted for new use as a mosque.

I’m willing to bet that the ornamentation is still intact, and is sitting behind those new walls and ceiling. The worker wasn’t very cordial, so I didn’t stick around or try to explore.

Contributed by Bob Furmanek

Recent comments (view all 9 comments)

teecee
teecee on March 13, 2005 at 1:01 pm

The Orpheum is located on Van Houten Street. It was built by Billy Watson who broke from his partnership with Ben Leavitt as operators of the West Street Bijou. At the Orpheum, Watson conducted a burlesque and picture theatre.

teecee
teecee on March 24, 2005 at 10:55 am

The 1951 FDY doesn’t have a listing for the Orpheum. It lists a State theater at 53-39 Houten Street. Houten street doesn’t show up on Mapquest. Could this possibly be the same theater as the Orpheum?

Ken Roe
Ken Roe on March 24, 2005 at 11:24 am

TC;
53-39 Van Houten Street, Paterson, NJ. 07505, does map out on Mapquest. I think you are correct in saying that the Orpheum Theater became the State Theater which is listed as having 1,184 seats.

The only other theatre I have a record of on Van Houten Street is the Lyceum Theatre at 123 Van Houten Street.

teecee
teecee on June 7, 2005 at 5:25 pm

This 1913 photo shows the Orpheum. It is the light colored building partially blocked by the left most beam.

View link

The handwritten description states “Market Street”. Depending on the configuration of the station and the local streets at that time, it may have been possible to view Van Houten street from the Market Street station.

teecee
teecee on April 6, 2007 at 3:06 pm

On page 68 of Images of America: Downtown Paterson there is a photo of the wall in the main description. The caption confirms my suspicion that the Orpheum later became the State Theatre. The building is now owned by the Islamic Foundation of New Jersey. A Google search puts that Foundation at 61 Van Houten Street.

VanRen
VanRen on August 5, 2007 at 9:22 pm

My grandfather, John Van Rensalier (1881-1943) was an accomplished black pianist, organist and vaudville entertainer will know in Paterson, NJ who also played at the ORPHEUM THEATER for silent films and burlesque in the early 1900s. I would be very interested in contacting “Uncle Floyd” about those rare photos he found. Any help is most appreciated.

teecee
teecee on June 13, 2008 at 9:04 am

Indeed today this buidling houses a mosque called Masjid Jalalabad
View link

lfreimauer
lfreimauer on October 10, 2013 at 4:10 pm

For many years the outsde wall of the building had the Orpheum name on it. (in the 50’s)

lfreimauer
lfreimauer on October 10, 2013 at 4:10 pm

For many years the outsde wall of the building had the Orpheum name on it. (in the 50’s)

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