Tuesday, January 2, 2018

The Broadway/Paramount Theater

The broadway district in Long Branch used to be home to two theaters, both owned and operated by Walter Reade. The first, appropriately named the Broadway Theater, opened in 1912.


The theater had a long but tumultuous history.  Reade opened the Strand Theater across the street in the 1920's, and by 1930 the Broadway closed officially for the first time. This was not long lived, as Leon Cubberly was given the task of redesigning the interior of the auditorium for it's grand reopening. The style chosen was a standard atmospheric design, with Spanish-Moorish influence. By 1931, the theater was reopened with a new name and a new auditorium. The new Paramout Theater had just over 1700 seats between the balcony and orchestra levels.

This run would not last long, as once again in 1959 the theater was shut down by Walter Reade. Reade had just modernized the Strand Theater, which itself was newer than the Paramount, as well as dozens of other theaters he owned. Instead of giving the Paramount the same treatment, he planned to demolish the building in 1961. Thankfully he never went through with it, and instead the building sat vacant.

Reuse plans were pitched in 1965, but they were dashed before anything happened. In the mid 1970s, new plans were drafted to convert the building into a dinner theater/live performance venue. Unfortunately, much like the plans to modernize the venue in 1965, the project never went anywhere. At some point the seats were removed, and Siperstein's Paint used the auditorium for warehouse space.

In 1998, hope was once again sparked for potential reuse of the theater. A group called the "Greater Long Branch Arts Council" formed a plan for the entire Broadway district. The theater was set to be restored as part of the revitalization of the city. However, the plans were scrapped around 2005. By then the Strand was long gone, having been demolished a decade prior, and the auditorium of the Paramount was in terrible disrepair.

Despite interest in the restoration, Sipersteins abandoned the auditorium in 2011, leaving all sorts of garbage and shelving on the orchestra level.

I had visited the theater building around 2014, and there wasn't any way inside the structure. I went back a few years later, to find the entire area had changed. The houses that once surrounded the theater were gone. The whole lot was torn up, and demolition equipment was on site. I didn't have my camera with me, but I parked and popped inside a recently exposed entrance. As I sat alone inside the large former auditorium, I knew my time to enjoy the building was limited. The next day I returned with a friend and my camera, and we spent some more time taking photos and poking around.

The final chapter of the history of the theater came to a close in 2017, when the auditorium was finally demolished to make way for parking. Long Branch has begun a resurgence in development and popularity, and with that comes a need for more parking for beachgoers and other tourists.

While it would have been nice to see this theater restored and put back to use, the current stewardship of the city had other plans. As they say, "Oh well...."

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