After checking out the exterior of the historic Loew’s Jersey movie theater a couple of weeks ago, I didn’t expect to see the interior anytime soon. I knew that the theater screens classic films, but also that it’s closed in the summer due to a lack of air conditioning. I thought I’d missed my chance and would have to wait until the fall to check it out. It turns out, however, that I got to venture into the Loew’s sooner than anticipated: last week, their Twitter feed began publicizing the final screenings of the spring, a Saturday night double feature of Superman and The Seven Year Itch.
I’m busy getting ready for a nearly monthlong trip to Asia that begins this Thursday, so I didn’t think I could spare the time for both movies and decided that since I’ve seen Superman before, I’d go to The Seven Year Itch. But the movie was kind of beside the point (which is good, because it was … pretty awful). I really just wanted the experience of seeing a film at the Loew’s Jersey, even though I knew it wouldn’t be quite like Annie’s first visit to Radio City Music Hall.
Last night, I ate a quick dinner at Deccan Spice on India Street (get the vegetable biryani, it’s excellent) and then walked a couple blocks over to Journal Square to join the line of people assembling in the foyer of the Loew’s. Superman was running late, so after buying my ticket for The Seven Year Itch, I had about 20 minutes to check out the lobby and second floor. The lobby seems to be the best-restored part of the theater, and it’s spectacular.
Grand staircases on either side of the lobby lead upstairs, where things need more TLC but the dazzling original features are still evident. Although the paint is peeling and the carpet is worn, the building has “good bones,” as they say on HGTV’s renovation shows. Modern multiplexes seem even more bland and cookie-cutter when you compare them to an old theater like the Loew’s Jersey.
I was far from the only person wandering around the lobby taking photos—and several people had brought far more elaborate cameras than I did. Clearly, lots of people relish the chance to see a classic movie theater up close.
Eventually, the Superman crowd cleared out and the Friends of the Loew’s volunteers began ushering those of us milling about the lobby into the theater itself for the second show. The auditorium is massive, and I couldn’t imagine what it must have been like back in Jersey City’s prime, with every one of the 3,100 seats on the floor and in the balcony filled. (Because it doesn’t meet current building codes, the balcony is now closed.) There were only fifty or so people sprinkled around the auditorium on Saturday night, though that might have been a reflection of the movie being screened—a couple in the ticket line who attend all the Loew’s shows said that the place gets pretty full on Hitchcock nights.
In front of the curtain hiding the movie screen, an organist played for us on the theater’s vintage instrument—possibly the high point of the evening (he was excellent) and far, far better than the commercials and dumb trivia games movie theaters play before the previews today.
Finally, a Friend of the Loew’s stood on the stage and welcomed us to the theater, followed by the organist playing “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” as he and the organ slowly descended below the stage on an elevator. And then the lights dimmed and it was showtime.
So while The Seven Year Itch wasn’t great, I loved the experience of seeing a classic film in a vintage theater. It was also not an expensive night out: movie tickets are $8, and I bought a small box of popcorn and a can of diet Coke for $1 each. Since the movie ended at 11pm, I took the bus home rather than walk, costing an additional $1.50. Not quite the same prices someone would have paid in 1955 to see The Seven Year Itch in its original run at the Loew’s Jersey, but not nearly as pricey as a regular movie theater today. If you’re hanging around Jersey City on a night when the Loew’s is screening a film, don’t miss it.
(And if any Friends of the Loew’s happen to read this … The Philadelphia Story! I would love to see that on the big screen.)