An Inside Look At The Stanley Theater’s Celestial Restoration


inside stanley theater journal square jersey city

When it opened in 1928, The Stanley Theater in Journal Square was one of the greatest old movie palaces and the second-largest on the East Coast, next to Radio City. Presenting both orchestral and stage shows plus Hollywood new releases, it quickly became a cultural hub in the bustling Journal Square neighborhood.

“This was a refuge for the people of Jersey City,” notes historian Richard Polton.

the stanley theater journal square under construction
© Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania.

Designed by architect Fred Wesley Wentworth in a grand Venetian theme, the theater continued to thrive into the 1960s, with entertainers ranging from The Three Stooges, Jimmy Durante, Tony Bennett, Janis Joplin and Dolly Parton, to The Grateful Dead. By the 1970s, however, the theater, like many of its kind, suffered from disrepair and became a grindhouse.

vintage stanley theater photos jersey city
© Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania.

The spectacular elements of the space left to be forgotten, the intricate metalwork was painted over and the Wurlitzer organ removed before it shut down for good on April 20, 1978. But in 1983, the neglected theater was purchased for $1.8 million by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society from Delaware Corporation, for use as an Assembly Hall for Jehovah’s Witnesses. The story of its renovation, an unfolding of willing hands and minds, transformed the once-entertainment hall into a sacred place of worship.

stanley theater restoration
Courtesy of Jehovah’s Witnesses
stanley theater lobby journal square
Courtesy of Jehovah’s Witnesses

In 1988, the theater, which is on the NJ Registry of Historic Places, underwent an initial renovation phase, but the latest, completed in a nine-month period from 2012-2013, has restored even more value and splendor to the space. Situated in direct proximity to The Loews, the two exemplify the polar opposite results of restoration productivity, raising the question, once again, of funding for such a massive undertaking of a historic space.

stanley theater watchtower
Courtesy of Jehovah’s Witnesses

“We are largely self-financed,” said Robert Warren, media consultant for the World Headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses, noting that the project was funded by individual donations from Witnesses across the world. “Whoever wants to build a tower must first count the cost,” he cited biblically, attributing the successful funding to strategic planning. “Rather than start and escalate, we evaluate first.”

Over two thousand Witness volunteers from across the United States worked together on the large scale project, with work completed through volunteers only with the exception of contractors for only high-risk safety needs. Pooling from various skill-sets, training often occurred from Witness to Witness.

journal square history
Courtesy of Jehovah’s Witnesses

“It was wonderful to see the willing spirit of them,” said Chris Simonson, Operations Manager. Simonson noted that one volunteer from Italy knowledgeable on precious metals restoration was vital to revive the copper and brass finishes that had been painted over in thick layers.

The team also found objects that were there already, but tucked away. “A lot of small storage rooms were boarded up,” Simonson said. “We found areas people hadn’t been in for years and 30-year-old chandeliers in boxes, which were in good condition, but dirty. We discovered copper scrollwork on the side of the building, under paint, which we thought was woodwork at first.”

stanley theater journal square seats

In peeling away layers, the team was able to preserve elegance but infuse it with comfort. For example, in refurbishing the seating, the group kept in mind that people would be seated for longer periods during congregation meetings than originally, when the theater was used for entertainment. “We lost 600 seats but kept the beauty,” Simonsson said.

“We know it is a privilege and we consider it an honor to be here,” Simonsson added. The attention to preserving the original design is evident from the facade to the stage itself. At the exterior entrance, a shiny copper marquee spans above a pair of solid brass doors, with arched windows above it.

“They really did build this to last,” added Warren.

stanley theater journal square lobby

The three-story lobby is fixed with columns, a center staircase with trompe l’oeil alabaster handrails and balusters, original gas lamps (since converted to lightbulbs), velvet drapes, and stained glass windows of faux “Chartre Blue” in the foyer. Biblical murals by Hungarian painter Willy Pogany originally adorned the ceiling and walls and were completed in the 1988 renovation.

tiffany chandelier waldorf astoria stanley theater
Courtesy of Jehovah’s Witnesses

Another focal point of the lobby is the thirteen-foot crystal chandelier suspended from the second floor. Sourced from New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in the 1920s, it dates to circa 1890, and is illuminated by 144 bulbs that reflect onto 4,500 hanging crystal teardrops. The fixture is maintained with twice-yearly cleaning. A direct gaze up at it reveals its snowflake shape. On the floor beneath it, is the original compass chiseled by hand, whose tiles were chipped out and placed back in, during the renovation.

jehovahs witnesses jersey city
Courtesy of Jehovah’s Witnesses

The theater itself, seating over 3,000, features an outdoor courtyard theme of grottoes, arches and columns and a proscenium arch modeled after the Rialto Bridge. Sourced materials include marble from Italy, Texas and Vermont, limestone from Indiana, and granite from Maine to face the Corinthian columns. On the sides of the theater, functional, original antiquated lion head fountains date to the 1920s and the “exit” signs were kept and restored. The copper overlay on the doors were polished by hand to bring back gloss, the ticket booth ceiling is original, and the grand staircase in the lobby was modeled after the Vanderbilt Mansion in Newport, RI.

stanley theater journal square lobby staircase

stanley theater journal square plasterwork

“We automatically assign a sacredness to the building because of our worship,” said Warren, of Witness Assembly Halls. “Having this space adds to the grandeur of why we are here.”

stanley theater journal square stage

stanley theater journal square scene

stanley theater journal square sign

Indeed the religious group has utilized the space for its unique needs. Events are held in 13 languages and The Stanley is a worldwide destination, hosting a meeting with 44 countries in October. The fine acoustics are a plus for the music-heavy congregations, and beneath the stage, where the orchestra pit once was, is a Baptism pool.

stanley theater journal square seating

The expansive, domed, white plaster, eighty-five-foot ceiling once permitted an open sky effect with a “stars and moving clouds” show that was created by a projecting device—the “Brenkert Brenograph.” Some of the points of light in the ceiling still work today, creating a twinkle-star-like effect, invoking congregation members to feel they are gazing up at Heaven itself.


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  1. I have been there. It is so beautiful, just what Jehovah’s house should be like. If u can please go you will love ❤️ it

  2. When I was young age of 15 years old I remember I want with my own father and mother and we watch Arabic movie in the theater I wasn’t Jehovah witness Yet but later on in life when I was young in the age of 19 I believe I was newly baptized I help around by dusting or shining I use to take the bus after my work to Jersey City from North Bergen I did not have a car on the time I use to have fun and now I’m 53 mother of 3 when I enter to Stanley theater I still get amazed over it when I see it, it’s so beautiful and it give me all the memory back when I was young and what did I do in there and I learn a lot and I meet so many different people in it I still love it and I always will.

  3. Roberta Hughes
    I have been there also and the picture do A lot but you have to go see it for yourself.
    The wonders of what Jehovah’s organization can do with his spirit.

  4. I used to visit my cousin in Jersey city and I remember what the theater looked like, the whole area was in terrible shape!! The Brothers and Jehovah’s Holy Spirit not only brought the Stanley back to it’s original beauty and beyond, it also revitalized the whole area!!! All to the praise of JEHOVAH

  5. This building is amazing I wish I could go there and see it. It’s so beautiful when our brothers and sisters get together in an organized manner and accomplish what Jehovah wants them to do … Only in Jehovah’s organization !!!!

  6. This is one of those….drop your jaw and walk around with your mouth wide open places….everywhere you look…the beauty and detail of yesteryear shines thru. Had the privilege of attending a assembly there in April 2016. If you would like to attend one of the day long assemblies…go to…scroll to the bottom of site and look for ATTEND A MEETING….type in Jersey City, NJ and it will pull up the site, and you can locate a date it is open for assembly. Enjoy!

  7. It truly is a delight to visit The Stanley. My family have twice had the privilege. What a beautiful shout of praise to our god, Jehovah.

    • Hi, do you know if we still can visit this assembly hall and how we could schedule a visit? thanks a lot! Jazmine

  8. 2009 in Long Beach for the International Assy. from New Zealand. This wasn’t on the original tour plans, but managed to squeeze it in, & what a blessing. Incredible amount of restoration & I was amazed at the “outdoor
    Plazza” feel in the main auditorium, even with the cloud effect. Could have spent much more time there if we had it. Sadly didn’t. Would highly recommend making the trip if one is anywhere near it.

  9. My daughter and I 20 years ago when we started in the full-time ministry took a trip to see it. It was so beautiful! Autumn was only 15 years old and I won’t say how old I was but it was a spectacular place to see! We both are still in full-time service, her and her husband doing special work traveling and I’m serving in the Philippines. So thankful we made that special trip together from Hickory, NC to see this handiwork in New Jersey that glorifies Jehovah and shows what his worshippers can accomplish with his spirit!

  10. I tiled some of the walls around the ice creme machine.
    Probably remodeled by now but I really enjoyed the previlege of working there.
    Truly a gem of a building for worship

  11. This place is beyond beautiful. However, it saddens me to see inequality when our brothers in Africa and elsewhere have no real Kingdom Halls or proper chairs to sit on, and here we are in North America. I am not proud but very saddened. Jehovah sees this.

    • Anon…I am wondering what you suggest as a remedy. Only Jehovah’s new world will rid the earth of poverty & make all areas of our planet equal as to needs & comfort of all of us. Would you suggest that no large halls be bought, repaired, & fixed up for assemblies etc in the US? What do you recommend as a solution to the inequality of circumstances in the different nations around the globe?

    • We do have a program for building Kingdom Halls in places where the brothers can’t afford to do it themselves. I am rather surprised th you do not appear to know this.

    • That’s this system though! Don’t forget the “poor” widow and King Solomon from the bible…not materially equal yet both dedicated servants of Jehovah!

  12. My buddy and I were the first to get baptized there – the week after the dedication – in 1985. It will always hold a special place in my heart. A good friend – much older – told me he had been an usher there over 50 years earlier when he was just a kid He said we restored it’s beauty, maybe even a bit better He was so sad that it had fallen into disrepair but glad that it was restored to such a elevated purpose – assisting people to learn about Jehovah God. I’ve had the chance to work there many times and even wander all the nooks and crannies. It never ceases to bring a little awe and a pause to think, view and be thankful

  13. Fortunately, I was baptized there in 1989. It was the most amazing thing I had ever experienced (my baptism) because the building was awesome then!

  14. actually the Grateful Dead played there September 26, 27 & 28, 1972
    The concert on the 27th is memorialized as Dick’s Picks #11
    My wife was there for one of those shows and i drive by every day now
    Glad to see what it looked like inside


  16. My great grandfather was one of those who installed the original plumbing. So wonderful to see its beautiful restoration!

  17. I grew up going to the movies there. I asked for a tour and they took me and showed me the whole place was beautiful and no I am not Jehovah. And they still gave me a great tour.

  18. As a kid we went to the movies there, early 60’s .
    I used to spend more time watching the ceiling, as it slowly got darker and the clouds would drift overhead and the twinkling stars came out. It was really like being in an outdoor Spanish court yard. Absolutely amazing.
    I don’t know if the cloud effect still works but I never saw anything like it since. Glad it was saved. Too bad the original organ was not still there. I understand it was one of the biggest.

  19. I grew-up in Jersey City going to see movies there as a child. I was so glad, that this structure wasn’t razed like so many other beautiful buildings in the past like Grand Central Station in New York City as an example. That someone, some group, stepped-in to do something to save it. My brother and sister-in-law, are devout Jehovah Witnesses for almost 30 years now. My brother is an Elder at the hall in Plainesfield, NJ. And over the years, he has taken so much pride in the Volunteer work and their accomplishments at that hall. And I’m certain he recalls his childhood memories there too. So there is some what a double sense of pride, a building connected to his past and one connected to his faith. Thank-You for providing a wonderful place to pray and connect to Jehova and a place that the community can connect to with their past !

  20. Jersey City or the state should have purchased this theatre — New Jersey City University still has quite an arts and theatre department: it could have been used for that purpose: for the college to use!

    • Ahhh..Ms. York you must be under the age of 35. Please do your research and see how long the building was vacant, empty and an eyesore in the community. Your college could have purchases it to but… Here’s hoping that you have a beautiful and positive day!

      • hi jo,, ,,some people don’t know what trouble the Witnesses were given by city officials trying to stop the project ,, it had to go to court to get permits to start work ,,the town wanted the building torn down ,,and that would have been the fate of the theater if the jehovahs witness didn’t purchase it,, you see the building needed so much work and money to restore and it was given by all the volunteers

          • On most weekends there is a free Public Assembly there between 9:30-5:00 you can visit. To check the schedule visit Under About Us – under Meetings / Assemblies you can probably did the schedule.

  21. hace unos 10 años estuve ahi, y me parecio un lugar hermoso, lo que mas me impresiono, fue encontrar hermanos, de muchos paises, con diferentes lenguas, y diferentes formas de vestir, pero con el mismo pensamiento.
    que unidad, que hermandad, recordé el testo de revelación que menciona que en la visión habia gente de muchas tribus y de muchas lenguas.
    Jehova sigue demostrando que este es su pueblo. saludos desde acapulco .mexico.

  22. “My friend Tonia shared good news with me that her daughter got BAPTIZED yesterday at their Jehovah Witness Assembly located at the Stanley Theatre in Jersey City. She encouraged me to google and see how BEAUTIFUL it is. So happy I did. Making Jehovah happy by renovating the theatre is a witness to the community and shows creative talents Jehovah has blessed the brothers and sisters with. The brotherhood of volunteers (working without getting paid) from different states and countries is a witness of true brotherhood! The priceless stones, marble, columns and 144 bulb Chandelier and dedicated hours of the friends to complete this task is amazing! The ceiling with sky, clouds and stars were painted to display our Creator’s creations of the stars, clouds and heavens. Each detail carefully thought with Jehovah in mind the HAPPY GOD (1 Timothy 1:11) The building reflects dignity, praise and honor to our Sovereign God Jehovah.”

  23. Jehovah the happy God and a beautiful and comfortable place to worship and learn more about Him alongside his people. Wonderful, thanks to Jah and his organization!

  24. I visited the theater 30 years ago for the first time with my family and my son was only 4yrs old and to see the smile on his face when he saw the paintings even more so with the ice cream. Visited it about 15yrs later again with a tour bus with brothers and sisters from our congregation in Texas with my brother this time and he was in awe of how beautiful everything looked. Thank you brothers and sisters for your hard work.

  25. Jesus never glorified a building. His teachings never revolved around the “desire of the eyes”; in fact, he said “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matt 6:19-21; John 2:19-21; 4:21-24
    JWs love praising the “work of their hands”, as if God is pleased with such offerings. If this is so, He would not have sent His Son to begin the building of God’s new Temple in him. Christ is the chief cornerstone of THAT building, with the apostles and prophets as its foundation and “living stones” to complete it in the “144,000”. Eph 2:20
    Since JWs cannot really see this with the naked eye, or perceive the importance of the anointed, they are busy with building in Satan’s world. Luke 4:5-7
    “We automatically assign a sacredness to the building because of our worship,” said Warren, of Witness Assembly Halls. “Having this space adds to the grandeur of why we are here.”
    A “sacredness to the building”. Idolatry. Is this one of your temple, JWs? Isa 2:5-9; Acts 7:48-51

    • First I appreciate that you’ve taken the time to post and you seem very passionate about what is right in the mind of our God, Jehovah. You make some interesting points, but you do not apply the scriptures appropriately. It seems that you also find fault with how King Solomon (and King David by providing the materials) built the Temple and the following inauguration/dedication to Jehovah.

      So, let me correct and clarify a few things. When something is sacred that means that it is viewed as being holy, clean or pure, and should be. So what things are considered holy, or sacred, clean and pure? Well, anything that Jehovah views as such. This includes his name – Jehovah, Jesus and the ransom, God’s laws, our kingdom hope, the Bible, the marriage union and the family, Christian meetings/gatherings, the anointed still on earth are likened to a “holy temple”, physical and moral cleanliness, baptism, worship, responsibilities within the Congregation, God’s people including the anointed, prayer, our relationship with Jehovah, his holy spirit, our ministry, and yes, even our places of worship (not an exhaustive list, mind you).

      Indeed, in Biblical times a place (and even days, objects, animals, produce, festivals, etc…) were made holy by the present of Jehovah; for instance the account of the burning bush or the tabernacle courtyard, or even the camp of Israel was to be kept clean because “Jehovah your God is walking about within your camp” and “your camp must prove to be holy”. Now, was Jehovah actually there? No, of course not, but his holy spirit was. In the same way, places of worship, such as the Assembly hall can be considered sacred because of God’s spirit being upon the people and what it’s being used for.

      As for idol worship, Witnesses do not worship any building. Witnesses do not pray to or through a building. Witnesses do not love buildings of worship above Jehovah. Do Witnesses love to have a place of worship? Of course but not in the sense of veneration! Loving a location in itself is not wrong (remember to be balanced) and we love having any place where pure worship is. Do Witnesses want to make sure that they give the best to Jehovah? Of course! We want to magnify and glorify our God with the very best we can, not for show, but for his name. So having a building that gives glory to God at all times is a precious thing. In fact, the temple Solomon built was dedicated to Jehovah, as are all Witness buildings used for worship or in connection with the outworking of God’s purpose. Israelite’s/Hebrews also built temples which brought glory to God and were places of pure worship. Though, places of worship don’t have to be as beautifully restored and detailed as Stanley is. They should, however, maintain a dignified and clean appearance no matter where they are.

      The following are sober reminders for all in this time of the end, including you Peely – 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12; 2 Timothy 2:16-19,23-25; 4:1-5,7; 6:20; 2 Peter 2:1-3; 2 Corinthians 11:3; Matthew 24:5,11,24; 1 John 2:18,19

  26. I haven’t there in years, I think it’s a blessing. When I was a kid I was so amazed at how big da place was an still is as I can see. I really look forward to joining my family for da next get together and many more after dat.

  27. Phenomenal write-up and photos, sadly for anyone who cherishes the significance of historical architecture in serving the community AS A WHOLE, it will always be a genuine tragedy how this majestically beautiful movie palace got snatched up by some fundamentalist cult. Any Jersey City citizen who understands how much joy this place provided for millions when it was a bonafide movie palace gets what I’m saying here… The comments here are a joke, and sad affirmation to my point. Keep our classic, Landmark establishments OUT of the hands of Cults. Vaudeville Houses were built to provide joy to the masses, not merely a select, brainwashed few.

  28. My first job was a usher when I was 16 I was paid a whooping 50 cents and hour got to see the 4 seasons and Connie Frances and slapy White also 1 of the Muhammad Ali fights

  29. To M Lee. I too love to see these buildings preserved,there are some by where I live that are simular. I just want to comment on your feeling toward the whiteness. First, to clarify, Jehovah’s Witnesses are not a cult but are the exact opposite. Please look to the definition to understand. The witnesses do not hide our beliefs or isolate themselves from the rest of the world. They do not follow some individual blindly but fallow only the teachings of God that his son Jesus preached while on earth. They are also encouraged not to take what they hear or are taught at face value but instead to compare it with the bible to be sure that it’s true. To say they are fundamentalist may have a bit of truth in this regard. They fallow the directions God commanded at Dueteronomy 4:2 that says we are not to in any way add to our take away from his commands. It is with this command they choose to keep their worship clean from customs and dogmas that have been added by some and often have pagan origins that are in opposition to Gods way of worship. And instead of taking awaythey strive to restore the bible to it’s original writing, not changing it to suit their beliefs but changing themself to fallow its instructions. This can be seen prominently by restoring God’s name Jehovah (see Psalms 83:18 King James Bible) to all the scriptures that it way admittedly removed by religious leaders of the past and present. In that way they are not brainwashed but instead only fallow the bibles teachings not man’s and proudly peach and teach it to others worldwide as our heavenly king Jesus instructed us to. Yes this means sometimes being ridiculed for not partaking in a custom our holiday that is contrary to the bible or has pagan roots. But it is much better than blindly following these non biblical teachings that have been used to slowly brainwash followers for so long by so called religious leaders that seek power and influence instead of humbly seeking truth.
    Please do research on all you are taught. I say this not to belittle or argueor to try and convert but to encourage you to seek bible truth for yourself. Weather or not you are a Jehovah’s Whiteness you owe it Jehovah and his son, our king, Jesus to worship with truth and free from corruption. I hope you take no offence and wish you the best. Also check out if you want to know the more about the bible and what Jehovah’s Whiteness believe. Best of wishes.


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