Nearly 12 years of my life, on two separate occasions, were spent as a resident of New Jersey. I have many fond memories of life in the Garden State. However, outsiders' perception of the state tends to run like this:
(Note the cartoonist, who works for the Bergen Record, was poking fun at the state's image as perpetuated by programs such as "The Sopranos," not the state itself.)
Most of the "Jersey jokes" emanate from that city on the other side of the Hudson River (specifically you, Manhattanites!), the people who deride "the bridge-and-tunnel crowd" -- a term that, to be fair, is also used to knock those from the city's outer boroughs.
But this weekend, you New Yorkers who love classic Hollywood have a chance to take in a Jersey jewel...and you won't have to get in your car (or rent one!) to do it. I'm referring to a movie palace in Jersey City called the Loew's Jersey.
This weekend, three vintage films, all considered classics, will be playing at the Jersey. The lineup is called "Legendary Laughs," and kicks off tonight at 8 with "It Happened One Night," starring Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert:
Saturday, there's a twin bill. At 6 p.m., Jean Harlow is among an all-star cast in "Dinner At Eight"...
...followed by Buster Keaton's silent gem "The General" at 8:30:
The Keaton film will have live organ accompaniment, recreating a 1927 moviegoing experience. But it's one largely foreign to the Jersey, since it opened on Sept. 28, 1929, and from the start showed only talking films, such as its debut feature, "Madame X" with Ruth Chatterton:
Harlow's spirit is probably pleased one of her films is playing the Jersey this weekend, because in early 1932, not long after signing with MGM, she appeared on its stage while making a promotional tour of the Eaat. A year later, the Jersey welcomed another star:
In the audience that night was a teenager from nearby Hoboken who had taken his girlfriend, Nancy Barbato, on a date -- and after seeing Bing Crosby perform, he vowed he would become a singer too. And did he ever, because that teen's name was Frank Sinatra (and Nancy Barbato became his first wife). Stage shows continued every now and then in later years; for example, New Jersey's own Four Seasons gave a concert there in 1968.
The Jersey, seating about 3,000, was one of five theaters Loew's built in the New York-New Jersey area in 1929-1930...and thankfully, none of them have fallen prey to the wrecking ball. (The others are in upper Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens.) But the Jersey came close to meeting that fate.
After World War II, suburbanization encroached on urban areas such as Jersey City's Journal Square district. Commerce declined, and theaters struggled. In the '70s, the Jersey was triplexed, but that didn't help, and in August 1986 it closed.
The theater lay fallow for several years while the future of the site was up in the air. Would it be razed for an office building or an urban shopping mall?
Fortunately, a band of preservationists saved the day. Recognizing how irreplaceable the Jersey was as a civic landmark, they persuaded the city to let them try to renovate the place, or at least prevent further deterioration. About 10 years ago, the theater was determined to be sufficiently adequate to host an occasional movie. Work continued, and by its 75th annoversary in September 2004 (when I visited the Jersey for a showing of "Mr. Smith Goes To Washington"), significant progress had been made -- though it was still a ways away from completely recapturing its old grandeur. (The theater is dormant in the summer, enabling restoration work to proceed unimpeded.) Here's what the interior looks like now:
Here's the Jersey's marquee at night (for a recent showing of "Journey To The Center Of The Earth," hosted by one of the film's stars, Arlene Dahl), and the theater's original marquee:
(Since the Jersey's rebirth, I don't believe it has shown a Carole Lombard film. We'll have to work on that.)
As I said earlier, the Jersey is easy to reach -- even for New Yorkers. Take the PATH train, which links Newark, Hoboken and Jersey City with midtown and lower Manhattan (and connects with several New York subway lines, although the fare is separate), and get off at the Journal Square station. The Loew's is across Kennedy Boulevard, in easy walking distance.
For more information, simply go to http://www.loewsjersey.org/, which has all you need to make your Jersey experience a good one (the site has plenty of historic photos as well). Once you visit, you won't be making jokes about this Jersey joint.