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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