One of New Jersey’s most popular entertainment venues is set to undergo a major transformation in the coming years.
The State Theatre has been a Middlesex County institution since 1921, operating under several owners and names on Livingston Avenue in the heart of New Brunswick. It opened as a vaudeville and film palace and was later one of the New York Metropolitan Area’s RKO theaters. Celebrities like Bob Hope, Harry Houdini, and Ella Fitzgerald were among the performers there under previous ownership.
However, as suburban sprawl around New Brunswick increased while the city’s population growth began to slow, the theater eventually fell into a largely unusable condition by the late 1970s. In fact, the ceiling above the stage was damaged by a hole in the wall, according to Anna Marie Gewirtz of State Theatre.
Just a decade later though, in 1988, as plans for an arts district in the city gained traction, it reopened as a non-profit institution and underwent another renovation nearly 15 years ago.
Today, the 1,847-seat venue is constantly holding programming that attracts local residents and tourists, from educational events to performances by comedians like Tracy Morgan to concerts, and has been ranked among the most visited theaters of its size in the world.
Now, State Theatre is likely about to experience one of its biggest changes in decades.
Gewirtz, the recently named President and Acting Chief Executive Officer of the organization, revealed plans for and a rendering of a major rehabilitation project to attendees of the Central Jersey Transportation Forum last week at The College of New Jersey in Ewing Township. According to Gerwitz, a capital campaign is currently underway for this proposed $30 million renovation.
Plans for the project include installing elevators inside to make the building more accessible, building a second stage for smaller events with 200 seats upstairs in a space that is currently underutilized, and developing the rooftop into a public space for community or pre-performance events with a retractable roof.
“We want to become state of the art in our facilities and in all of our patron amenities,” Gerwitz explained.
Plus, she informed attendees that a blade marquee will be installed on the facade of State Theatre “that harkens back to what it looked like in 1921,” and that the proposal also includes updated technology throughout the building.
“We want New Brunswick to continue to be a destination and for it to be even more so,” said Gerwitz, adding that although “all the restaurants are packed” when there are performances at the theater, “when there’s not a show at night, and especially when Rutgers is not in session, Downtown is very quiet after 5pm.”
She told attendees that State Theatre currently has an estimated $38 million economic impact in the city, but that the number could increase to $45 or $50 million following the renovation phases.
This news comes as this part of New Brunswick is seeing other development projects, including a proposed new 22-story complex with two theaters, office space, and apartments at the site of the nearby George Street Playhouse and Crossroads Theatre Company properties.