Stanley Theater (Jersey City)
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The theater opened to the public on March 24, 1928. Mayor Frank Hague attended the ceremonies that evening and, with the audience, was greeted on the screen by actress Norma Talmadge. An orchestral performance, a stage show called "Sky Blues," a newsreel, and a musical piece on the Wurlitzer organ, preceded the showing of The Dove starring Talmadge and Gilbert Roland.
The Stanley was designed by architect Fred Welsey Wentworth (1864-1943), who is noted for designing many buildings in Paterson, NJ following the 1902 fire. When it opened, its 4,300 seats earned it the rank of the second largest theater on the East Coast, behind only New York City 's Radio City Music Hall. It was fourth in the country in number of seats in a one-screen theater, behind Radio City, and the Detroit and St. Louis Fox theaters. It was an elegant and popular venue into the 1960s. Stage shows at the theater reflected the popular culture of the times with entertainers ranging from Three Stooges and Jimmy Durante to Tony Bennett, Janis Joplin, Dolly Parton, and The Grateful Dead. During the 1970s, however, movie attendance suffered and the theater fell into disrepair, and became an RKO (Radio-Keith-Orpheum Pictures) grindhouse. The once beautiful metalwork throughout the building was painted dark blue, and the Wurlitzer organ was removed in the 1970s. It finally closed as a movie theater April 20, 1978.
The future of the building was in question until it was purchased in 1983, becoming an Assembly Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses. At that time some basement sections of the stage area were flooded under two feet (60 cm) of water. The original brass and copper on doors and windows was covered by layers of paint and dirt, the picturesque Italian façade was obscured by 50 years of nicotine and dust, and the seats were stained, torn, and ripped. The theater's huge chandeliers had lost their brilliance under layers of grime. Thousands of volunteers, Jehovah's Witnesses, worked over a nine-month period to renovate and clean the theater back to its original beauty and splendor, for its first assembly in August 1985.
A glittering copper marquee spans the entrance, overhanging the solid brass doors. Over the marquee are three large arched windows. Building materials include marble from Italy, Vermont and Texas, limestone from Indiana, and granite from Maine to face the Corinthian columns.
The interior has a three-story lobby adorned with columns, a broad center staircase with trompe l'oeil alabaster handrails and balusters, lamps, velvet drapes, and stained glass windows of faux "Chartre Blue" in the foyer. Allegorical paintings by Hungarian muralist Willy Pogany originally adorned the ceiling and walls.
The larger of two crystal chandeliers, suspended from the second floor, is from the New York 's original Waldorf Astoria of the 1880s; it is thirteen feet tall and ten feet wide, and illuminated by 144 bulbs that reflect onto 4,500 hanging crystal teardrops.
The grand staircase is the main feature of the three-story lobby. During the day, sunlight streams in, illuminating the lobby. An immense crystal chandelier shines after the sun sets. On three sides of the lobby, stands a formation of marble columns topped by a balcony. A nearly celestial ceiling actually had machine generated clouds and points of light that twinkled like stars.
Movie palace architect John Eberson contributed the design for the auditorium. Here theatergoers enter the environment of an evening in Venice with a replica of the Rialto Bridge spanning the stage. Above the seating is an eighty-five foot ceiling that permits an open sky effect with stars and moving clouds originally effected by a projecting device called a "Brenkert Brenograph," costing $290 (in 1920s dollars). Lighted stained glass windows line the walls with grottoes, arches and columns simulating the courtyard motif.
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