Bringing Art Deco Back: Planning Board Approves New State Theatre Signage

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—State Theatre NJ will officially see her name in new lights in one of many major changes coming to the historic building as it approaches its centennial anniversary.

The theatre has continued meaningful and inspiring programming despite the COVID-19 pandemic, which has dramatically affected nearly all arts venues in the country.

The 1,800 seat theatre has remained closed since March, but this summer the county government announced a $12 million grant to upgrade the building.

The theater, with the help of the Middlesex County Board of Chosen Freeholders and other sponsors, is moving ahead with extensive plans for renovation to the existing building in order to make the building accessible by installing an elevator among other amenities.

While upcoming events are still being rescheduled, the historic façade of State Theatre New Jersey is expected to receive two new signs as part of the construction.

The larger of the two signs appears to be a call back to a vertical sign that was in use more than a half-century ago. The theatre also intends to keep the existing marquee that can be seen at the entrance.

State Theatre NJ applied to the New Brunswick Planning Board for permission to construct a new “blade” exterior sign measuring 6 feet, 8 inches wide by 31 feet tall, as well as a new canopy sign on the left side of the building facing Livingston Avenue, to measure 1 foot by 7 feet. 

On November 12, the city’s planning board approved the 99-year-old theatre’s application for the two new signs.

One resident of the Heldrich condominiums located across the street from the theatre raised concerns about the impact the lights on the sign will have on neighbors.

The Board and the theatre agreed to impose a condition on the approvals that the lights on the blade sign would be turned off approximately 30 minutes after the last performance of the night.

In 1921, the State Theatre, designed by the legendary Thomas W. Lamb, opened on a Monday afternoon selling its first ticket to a child named Victor Levin, then a resident of Paterson Street.

At the time, State Theatre was a very common name for new theatres popping up all over the country, which is why so many theaters today exist with the same name.

Management shifted from the original theater manager of Walter Reade to the B.F. Keith theater chain, then to Radio-Keith Orpheum (more popularly known as R.K.O).

In the 1970’s, RKO sold the building and it became largely a movie theater until in 1983, when New Brunswick’s largest company, Johnson & Johnson, purchased the building through their nonprofit development corporation (DEVCO) in order to host fundraising events.

Architectural Drawing by DLR GROUP

From 1986 until today, the State Theatre NJ has benefited from millions of dollars in renovations making her a leading venue in performing arts for all ages with decor replicating its original art deco flair including a new chandelier and gold leaf trim.

The theatre’s audio and lighting design have both been updated to state-of-art quality, and it has hosted many well-known entertainers over the years, as well as ceremonies, interviews, meetings and film screenings.

Editor’s Note: The author of this article previously worked for the State Theatre.

 

Reporter at New Brunswick Today | 732-743-8993 | mobrien@nb.today

Molly O'Brien is a law student and reporter in the city of New Brunswick.