61 Van Houten Street,
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Previously operated by: Brandt Theaters
Previous Names: Orpheum Theatre
This theatre is on Van Houten Street, off of Main Avenue in downtown Paterson opened as the Orpheum Theatre on August 17, 1912. It was renamed State Theatre on April 11, 1936. You can tell from the shape of the exterior that it was a theatre, with the tell-tale stage housing at the back of the building.
The most unique aspect of the facade was a fading ‘ghost’ sign on the side wall which says “Orpheum - Classy and Refined Burlesque, Matinee Every Day”. (Uncle Floyd, a local celebrity and comedy historian, told me an interesting story. As a youngster, he spent lots of time in downtown Paterson throughout the 1960’s. One time when he passed the theatre, he found boxes of old photographs in the garbage outside the building. They were original publicity photos of the acts that had played the Orpheum Theatre in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Among them were Joe Besser, Sydney Fields and Lou Costello.)
They were working on the interior last year, and I walked in and spoke with one of the workers. We were in the space that would have been the stage, and you can’t tell from the inside that it had been a theatre. All of the walls were sheet-rocked and a drop ceiling was in place. Apparently, for many years, it was used as a store. The worker had no idea it had been a theatre, and it was being converted for new use as a mosque.
I’m willing to bet that the ornamentation is still intact, and is sitting behind those new walls and ceiling. The worker wasn’t very cordial, so I didn’t stick around or try to explore. Sadly the ghost sign on the side exterior of the building has been painted over.
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Recent comments (view all 9 comments)
The Orpheum is located on Van Houten Street. It was built by Billy Watson who broke from his partnership with Ben Leavitt as operators of the West Street Bijou. At the Orpheum, Watson conducted a burlesque and picture theatre.
The 1951 FDY doesn’t have a listing for the Orpheum. It lists a State theater at 53-39 Houten Street. Houten street doesn’t show up on Mapquest. Could this possibly be the same theater as the Orpheum?
53-39 Van Houten Street, Paterson, NJ. 07505, does map out on Mapquest. I think you are correct in saying that the Orpheum Theater became the State Theater which is listed as having 1,184 seats.
The only other theatre I have a record of on Van Houten Street is the Lyceum Theatre at 123 Van Houten Street.
This 1913 photo shows the Orpheum. It is the light colored building partially blocked by the left most beam.
The handwritten description states “Market Street”. Depending on the configuration of the station and the local streets at that time, it may have been possible to view Van Houten street from the Market Street station.
On page 68 of Images of America: Downtown Paterson there is a photo of the wall in the main description. The caption confirms my suspicion that the Orpheum later became the State Theatre. The building is now owned by the Islamic Foundation of New Jersey. A Google search puts that Foundation at 61 Van Houten Street.
My grandfather, John Van Rensalier (1881-1943) was an accomplished black pianist, organist and vaudville entertainer will know in Paterson, NJ who also played at the ORPHEUM THEATER for silent films and burlesque in the early 1900s. I would be very interested in contacting “Uncle Floyd” about those rare photos he found. Any help is most appreciated.
Indeed today this buidling houses a mosque called Masjid Jalalabad
For many years the outsde wall of the building had the Orpheum name on it. (in the 50’s)
This reopened as the State theatre on April 11th, 1936. Grand opening ad posted.