Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The RKO Proctor's Theater

Standing tall over Newark's central building district is a tall, narrow building with a dirty white fa├žade. Though thousands pass by the building every day, few know that it is the former RKO Proctor's Theater.

The strange looking building was constructed in 1915, at a time when attending Vaudeville shows was one of the most common nighttime activities for residents of the city. It was originally referred to as the Proctor's Palace Theater. The outside wasn't the only unusual thing about the theater. The building actually had two separate auditoriums; one on the bottom floor and another "penthouse" auditorium built on top of the lower auditorium. The Newark Proctors building is one of the only existing "double decker" theaters in existence. 

The building itself was designed by Proctor's nephew, John M. Merrow. The lower auditorium had 2,300 seats. This alone made it one of the largest theaters in the city. The auditorium had a main level, mezzanine, and three balconies flanking both sides of the stage. The lower auditorium began screening movies before long, as Vaudeville shows were losing their appeal.

The upper auditorium held 900 seats, but was rarely ever used. No information can be found online about what the upper theater used to screen. After Proctors death in 1929 the theater was sold to Radio-Kieth Orpheum, which is when it was renamed. However, Proctors name was left in the name of the theater. A few decades later the upper auditorium was completely remodeled, but the new "Penthouse Cinema" would be short lived.

After the famous rebellion that transformed the city in 1967, the theater was finding it harder and harder to survive financially. The building was perched amongst a half dozen other theaters in the vicinity, including the Branford, The Adams, and the Paramount a few blocks away. The building closed its doors for good in 1968, and that was the last time the auditoriums would ever be used. The lobby was partially renovated into a shoe store, with much of the original ornamentation remaining above a drop ceiling.

The building slowly rotted away for decades, as the city of Newark tried to recover. In 2016, it was announced that a buyer had been found for the building. The new owner plans to level the building, and construct a new structure on the lot. Its always a shame when a unique, historic treasure is lost. Hopefully whatever eventually fills the space of the former theater will be useful. Its a pretty safe bet, however, that it won't be as amazing a structure as the old Proctor's theater.

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