Historical significance of Cape May’s endangered Beach Theater

posted by georgeator on December 7, 2006 at 2:45 pm

CAPE MAY, NJ — The Beach Theater is now the subject of a demolition application. Let us hope that people are aware of the historical significance of this structure.

First of all, the theater was designed by the noted architect William H. Lee of Philadelphia who designed many theaters along the Jersey shore. Unfortunately, this is one of the last of his theaters that remains, particularly in the southern part of the state.

It is also one of the first, if not THE first theater in the country to be designed with retail stores attached, a style that is still duplicated today on a much larger scale, in many shopping malls. Secondly, the builder of the theater was Mr. William C. Hunt. Mr. Hunt began one of the nation’s first “nickelodeons” in Camden, NJ and built an empire in the theater business.

Any and all efforts should be made to save this structure before it is too late. Any suggestions and/or advice would be greatly appreciated. Time is crucial, as a hearing is scheduled for Monday, December 11, 2006 before the city’s Historic Preservation Commission.

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Comments (10)

Natalieland2006 on December 7, 2006 at 4:26 pm

You may want to talk to an attorney. Maybe you can save the theater, just like the way they had saved the Rose Theater located in Omaha, Nebraska. Local groups and university theater divisions may help as well. I do wish you the very best of luck during this holiday season.

TheaterBuff1 on December 8, 2006 at 12:40 am

If Cape May is far enough away from Atlantic City’s corrupt influence — which has been omnipresent ever since gambling was made legal there — I would say the Beach Theatre has a good chance of being spared the wrecking ball. Frank Family Management, meantime, which obviously greatly downgraded the Beach Theatre by making it a multiplex, seems to have some sort of a weird symbiotic relationship with the gambling industry in general. They’re starting to move on Pennsylvania now, for instance, which is about to have casinos. Coincidence? I don’t think so. And as gambling now overtakes Pennsylvania and hopefully will draw some gambling related traffic away from NJ, maybe Cape May can look forward to being one of the first New Jersey seaside resorts to recover from Atlantic City’s ill effects. So with that said, and hoping that is the case, hats off to all efforts to try to save the Beach Theatre!

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on December 8, 2006 at 6:02 am

The historical information on the Beach Theatre’s CT page is virtually non-existant. You seem to have good knowledge as to the theater’s significance, ggreg. You’ll definitely want to be armed with a nice historical fact sheet for the hearing on Monday. Perhaps you can share more of what you know on the Beach’s CT page to try and gather more support for your efforts. Good luck with it.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on December 8, 2006 at 6:50 pm

If it opened in 1950, it may be historically significant, but in no way is it “ first theater in the country to be designed with retail stores attached”. The Somerville Theatre had retail stores attached when it opened in 1914. Most of the storefronts are gone now, absorbed by lobby expansion and the construction of additional cinema screens, but one remains.

I don’t think there’s anything especially unusual about the Somerville, either, except that it has survived to the current day. It used to be quite common to build mixed-used structures containing a theatre alongside retail and office space. For another similar structure, see the Capitol Theatre in nearby Arlington, which opened in 1925 and has kept many more of its adjoining storefronts. In fact the stores have their own website: The Capitol Block.

FaithBarlow on December 10, 2006 at 2:03 pm

I was very sad to see your post. I lived in Cape May for a time and was recently back to visit. I was pleasantly surprised that the theater was still there and the many upgrades that the city has undergone. Here are my suggestions. Do you know who is behind this proposal? Ar they selling the theater? Who has requested the demolition permit? What is it they want to build in its place…Find out. find good sound arguments for why whatever they want to build in its place…should not be built. depending on what it is, you may have alot of other people against it. Gather everyone and anyone that you can who does not want the theater to be demolished. Make some noise. Have good sound reasons why this theater should not be torn down. There are a few that I can think of. Though Frank management has taken many of its historical details away, luckily not everything is gone…It is still historically significant and is in fact the only movie theater in the heart of Cape May. Considering how the Congress Hall has thrived since its renovation (with creativity and effort) the same could be done with this theater. I don’t think that Cape May wants another Christian Admiral situation (and it does not have to be). Try to get your community involved. Important officials the Mayor, the media, friends, family, strangers, council members, friends of the theater, the Cape May film Festival. The more people who rally for this theater (the better your chances). Call your local B&B owners, restaurant owners, live theaters. This theater could be renovated beautifully to a shining example of 1950’s Americana. The last thing that town needs is another ugly modern condo. They need to preserve what has made Cape May a beloved town throughout the years while improving the town. Improving is not tearing down the very buildings that make that city quaint and unique, but rather building up and preserving those dusty gems that exist. I wish you the best of luck, boy I wish I could be there. Hopefully the demolition permit will be denied or at the least delayed. If delayed, this bides you time to gather an army of signatures and people who do not want to see it go. Start a web site to save the beach theater. Lastly, maybe someone who worked on saving the Boyd Theater here in Philadelphia could help you out with ideas, that group did a great job. Good luck.

TheaterBuff1 on December 11, 2006 at 2:33 am

Apparently you’re not real up on how things are in the Philadelphia/South Jersey area are right now, Ms. Barlow, but right now if anything positive survives, in nearly all cases it is totally and purely by default. Jean-Paul Sartre once said something to the effect of “Hell is not a place; hell is other people,” and that very much sums up the Philadelphia/South Jersey area right now. Your thinking is rational and progressive and I commend you for it. And if there were a sizeable number of people who thought like you do in this region right now, there would be no such thing as anyone giving thought to razing Cape May’s Beach Theatre. But the fact that there is talk of tearing it down should be total confirmation that everything I’m telling you now is 100% true. As for the Boyd Theatre in Philadelphia, through pure happenstance it is still standing, the last of many movie palaces that once adorned Philadelphia. But you can’t go to see movies there right now, and it’s totally unknown when and if you ever can again.

I guess you’re not real up on the very negative impact legalized gambling had all throughout South Jersey over the past 26 years. For it turned all rational thinking totally upside down. That is, it enabled those who think totally irractionally to get a total edge up on everyone else. You should see how Ocean City, just 10 miles south of Atlantic City, was totally destroyed by it. Before Atlantic City’s gambling, Ocean City was the top seaside resort to go to in all South Jersey. Cape May totally paled in comparison. But then, simply due to default — the fact that Cape May was much farther south from Atlantic City — it got hit nowhere near as badly as Ocean City did, which, in turn, made Cape May the best South Jersey seaside resort to still go to. But please note, purely by default rather than any sort of intelligent deliberation. For in terms of the majority and the current leadership, there’s not that type of demographic in the area right now. Unfortunately.

HowardBHaas on December 17, 2006 at 6:37 am

The Boyd is not standing through pure happenstance! Facts determine survival- owners who kept it standing and later of fights for its preservation!! In the 1980’s the Historical Commission fought for it, in this decade the Preservation Alliance has fought for it, and for 4 years the Friends of the Boyd, www.FriendsOfTheBoyd.org has fought for it! Numerous volunteers have devoted much time for the Boyd. Those volunteers have not included TheaterBuff1

TheaterBuff1 on December 17, 2006 at 9:29 pm

Mr. Haas, as I have made clear to you many many times now, I am in NO position where I can afford to either volunteer or make generous donations towards saving the Boyd. I CAN, however, afford to invest in its restoration if you draw up an intelligent business plan for it which will allow me and others to see a good return on our investment. But you refuse to do this. Why?! Why?! Why?! For your way, keeping the Boyd as a charity, you win, we lose. And I say no to that, you can offer up better for us, Howard. But you refuse, and then you complain about the Boyd Theatre’s restoration effort being stalled — as though it’s MY fault rather than YOURS. And I say let’s not make that same blunder when it comes to saving Cape May’s Beach Theatre. You saved the Boyd from demolition, and for that I give you full credit. But for going on five years now you have FAILED to restore it — ALL because you INSIST on its being a CHARITY rather than a lucrative business proposition. And that’s your doing, Howard, not mine, okay? For I say get to work writing up the good business plan, and then we’ll talk.

georgeator on December 18, 2006 at 11:21 am

I believe this page is for the Beach Theater. Let’s try to stay on the topic and not use this as a forum for mud slinging.

TheaterBuff1 on December 18, 2006 at 9:51 pm

ggreg, I could not possibly agree with you more. For with regard to the Beach Theater the simple premise is this:

1) It is Cape May’s ONLY movie theater.
2) In keeping with what Cape May is best known for, it is historic in that it was designed by William Harold Lee, a protege of world renowned Philadelphia architect Frank Furness, and a world leader in movie theater design.
3) It contributes to the uplift and quality of life of the Cape May community in countless ways that a condominium parking lot (not to mention the proposed condominium itself) could not even begin to.
4) It has the capability of providing a significant cultural outlet in a seaside resort which is revered for culture.
5) It provides a significent boost for all other businesses right around it.

Can this same type of positive checklist be drawn up for that which some wish to replace this theater with and that positively outweighs it? If not, then that should resolve the dispute right there. It should be decided at this point that this theater is to remain standing, and a clearcut outline should be drawn up of how this theater is to be thereafter. A sample outline would be that it will be returned back to being a single-screen theater, and exhibit films that are in perfect keeping with Cape May community standards. And rather than being subjected to senseless debates as to what is “realistic,” “economically feasible” or what have you, the theater would be flexibly placed under the management of those who can readily achieve these easily attainable goals — that is, easily attainable WHEN it’s the right management. And by “flexibly” I mean that when existing management refuses to run the theater in this way it can be easily replaceable, the theater itself being the only thing of assured permanance.

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