In January 1923, the Newton Amusement Corporation awarded the construction contract for a stadium-type theater, capable of seating 1,000 people, to William Houghton. It was designed in “Colonial Style” by Reilly & Hall of New York. Load-bearing columns, consisting of 50 tons of steel supplied by the Submarine Boat Corporation of Newark, made the building of “the safest type known to modern engineering science.” Tapestry brick, pilasters and niches of ornamental stonework, and a marquise with 180 electric lights decorated the facade.
May 15, 1924
TODD RUNDGREN PERFORMS TO A SOLD OUT HOUSE AT THE GRAND OPENING OF THE NEWTON THEATRE.
September 28, 2010
September 9, 2011
By TOM HOWELL JR.
NEWTON -- Pure economics, including consumers' desire for movie options and 3D capability and the cost of showing first-run films at their release date, led to the closure of the historic Newton Theater last week, its operator said.
Built in the 1920s, the two-screen theater consistently advertised movies on its classic marquee, at $7 per ticket, until big black letters announced "Theatre Closed" on Friday.
"It's a real shame," operator Nelson Page, of Teaneck. "People from the town have always supported the theater."
But a lack of popularity from outside the town's borders took its toll.
"After 14 years, I could see the handwriting on the wall," he said. "We have a very large theater to the north in Middletown (N.Y.) and one to the south at the (Rockaway) mall. That siphoned away the regional aspect of the theater."
With limited screen options and a 3D trend that required a $130,000 investment -- the theater would never earn that money back, Page said -- nostalgia for the brick building gave way to economic realities.
"People want variety, and I can only give them two films at a time," Page said. "Everyone that wanted to see the film would come to see it in the first week," he said.
Newton Mayor Kristi Becker said it is sad to see the theater go, both from a sentimental and business perspective.
"Obviously, from a merchant perspective, we don't want anyone to leave this street, but we're making some strides with some new openings," said Becker, who owns a few businesses on Spring Street.
Page said the theater's owner, Planned Investment Equities, of Flemington, had "bent over backward" to keep it open for as long as possible. Now, the owners are looking to sell the property or find a tenant that can thrive.
Dennis Shuman, of Planned Investment Equities, said the property has potential as a bank, convenience store or, ideally, as a community theater owned by the town. A theater, he said, would complement efforts to energize downtown alongside high-end restaurants.
"Newton is a cute, charismatic little town with a great personality," Shuman said. "At this point, it's full potential has not yet been seen."
Page expressed doubts about the ability of the building to thrive as a theater. For one thing, it wasn't built with consideration for a stage.
Either way, Becker hopes the next occupant can do well.
"I'd rather see something come in and be successful," she said, "Not just for them, but the town as a whole."
May 16, 2008
Renovations were carried out and the Newton Theatre was reopened on May 16, 2008 screening first run and classic movies. Narnia: Prince Caspian on one side and Baby Mama on the other.
New Day Cinemas acquired this theatre on 11/1/2006. New Day plans to continue the old, and introduce some new special programming.
October 21, 2007
November 1, 2006
The Star-Ledger (Newark, NJ), May 29, 2002 p013
Those old theater organs have become piping hot; Movie houses revive sounds of the silents. (NEW JERSEY)
Byline: JIM LOCKWOOD
It's not every keyboardist who gets to see his name in lights, but John Baratta is the marquee attraction in Newton. It is as if an old friend has come home.
After a half-century absence, the full orchestral sounds of an antique pipe organ are reverberating again inside the Newton Theatre.
A relic of the 1920s silent-film era, the theater organ makes its rich sounds by pushing air through pipes - a far cry from today's digital techno-beats and electronic wizardry that require speakers. But for Nelson Page, who installed the Newton Theatre organ, the old instrument is a "living, breathing" entity, with a future tied to its past.
"What's old is new again. It's a step back into yesteryear," said Page, president of the American Theatre Organ Society, a group with 100 chapters worldwide.
Cathy Martin, president of the Garden State Theatre Organ Society, said the instrument's popularity is rising, due in part to a resurgence in interest in silent films, as well as in theater organs themselves.
Martin - who with her husband, Robert, installed a theater organ at their Little Falls home a decade ago - said there may be as few as 100 to 150 fully functioning theater organs in existence, 20 of them in New Jersey. Page puts the number in theaters and homes around the country at 500.
A long-forgotten organ at Newark Symphony Hall was recently restored. That instrument had not been played for some 50 years, and few people even knew it still existed, because the keyboard console had been removed years ago. But the pipe chamber remained intact, and the Garden State society helped bring it back into action, Martin said.
In 1994, Page installed two vintage organs at the Galaxy Triplex cinema in Guttenberg, one for the lobby and the other for the theater section. Other recent efforts to restore pipe organs have taken place in Asbury Park and Jersey City.
Reflecting on the restoration efforts, Page said: "I think they are on an upswing because there's a greater amount of interest being developed in this uniquely American art form. It's a search for nostalgia. People are looking for a simpler, bygone era."
Some 10,000 theater organs were made by a dozen companies during the silent-film heyday of 1919 to 1929. Most were scrapped long ago, Page said.
The Newton Theatre, built in 1924, had an orchestra pit that once boasted two organs, including the largest pipe organ in Sussex County. Page guesses they were removed around the World War II era, as theaters switched to recorded music.
Page and employees spent 10 months transplanting an Organunique pipe organ to the theater on Spring Street in Newton from a private residence in Clifton.
Compared with other pipe organs, this one is small: two keyboards, 32 foot pedals and 24 stops, the switches that operate the sets of sounds. (The phrase "pulling out all the stops" stems from organ playing.)
Moving even a small pipe organ was no easy task because of the hundreds of components that had to be taken apart, restored and reassembled, Page said.
A separate room was built backstage for the pipe organ's unseen guts, including some 200 metal (zinc and tin) and wooden pipes, and various mechanical parts, such as a blower, windchest, and regulator, that work in concert to produce sounds.
Volume is controlled by a foot pedal that opens and closes swell shades, a sort of Venetian blind between the pipe room and theater seating.
The instrument, believed to date to the mid-1920s, made its debut in Newton seven weeks ago. It is played Saturday nights by John Baratta, organist for the First Presbyterian Church in Newton and Roxbury middle school band director, during intermission, around 6:30 to 7 p.m., in one of the theater's twin cinemas.
Inside the dimly lit theater, Baratta is silhouetted by a small light over the sheet music. All four of his limbs move as he plays, with hands working the keyboards and feet tapping bass pedals.
Baratta glides through a set of tunes, flowing from one into another, seemingly effortlessly.
"The response has been favorable so far," Baratta said. "At first I was afraid of the response I'd get, because it's so different from anything else. It's not canned music."
No, Page notes, this is live entertainment to an audience that at times spans all ages (depending on what movie is playing).
Baratta laughed as he recalled the time a young girl requested "Over the Rainbow" and a young boy suggested Baratta pipe down, because the music was too loud for his taste.
While some teenagers on a recent Saturday night seemed oblivious to it all, others took notice. "It's interesting. We've never seen it before. We're used to music from the speakers," one said.
Newton senior citizen Lucy Mathews said the pipe organ music is "just like the old days."
To Page, who does not play the instrument himself, such sentiments are music to his ears. Introducing the theater organ to someone who never heard it before, or reintroducing it to someone who has, achieves his goal of promoting the instrument and, he hopes, makes the moviegoing experience more enjoyable.
"They get a little extra for their movie dollar," Page said.
Newton Theatre opened May 15, 1924. At that time, it was considered the most imposing theatre in any town of the size of Newton east of the Mississippi. A Griffith-Beach theater organ was installed in the Newton Theater in 1924.
May 29, 2002
Operator Richard Nathan closed this theater in September 1997. Nelson Page of Ridgefield then took over.