Haddon Township Historical Photographs
The Ritz Theatre
The Ritz Theatre in the 1930s.
The Ritz Theatre in the 1990s.
|The following narrative is taken from documentation submitted for the National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form:|
This symmetrical, ten bay, two-story brick, Classical Revival theatre building, erected in 1927, faces White Horse Pike (U.S. Route 30) in Haddon Township, Camden County, New Jersey. It forms part of an attached row of commercial and apartment buildings on the northeast side of the Pike between East Ormond and East Holly Avenues. The building, basically rectangular in plan, has its principle facade in its southwest elevation. This elevation is marked by a marquee that projects from the wall above the central first floor openings. The building has a rectangular footprint. The entry opens into a vestibule which, in turn, opens into a lobby area. Stairs at either side of the lobby extend up to the former balcony (now enclosed) and to second story offices. To the rear of the lobby is the 471-seat auditorium. The side walls of the auditorium are decorated with paintings of classical figures and with false theatre boxes. A stage projects into the auditorium. Non-public spaces include offices, restrooms, a green room, and dressing cubicles. In basic form, the Ritz is what architectural historian Richard Longstreth terms a two-part commercial block. This form is the predominant one of older small and moderate-sized commercial buildings in the United States. The two-part composition reflects differences in use. The single lower story, at street level, indicates public space such as retail stores or a lobby. The upper zone suggests more private space, such as offices. (1) In the case of the Ritz, the first story originally included the vestibule and lobby with flanking storefronts, while the second story originally housed lodging for vaudeville performers. These rooms have been converted to offices and rehearsal space for theatre personnel. The Ritz?s facade is dominated by the original marquee, still used to advertise the theatre's productions. The outer face of the marquee identifies the building as the Ritz while the sides have message boards topped by lighted ?R?s?. The outer face of the marquee is topped by a stepped signboard crowned by a shield outlined in lights. Lights border each side of the marquee, and additional incandescent light bulbs hang from its underside. The sides of the marquee have rectangular signboards on which the current attraction is listed in movable letters. The marquee shelters the box office and recessed entry doors. Both the first and second stories of the facade are divided into three sections. The end bays of the first story are storefronts with plate glass display windows flanking recessed entry doors. These windows are topped by transoms, now boarded over. The south storefront, presently used as an office, has a replacement one-light wood door topped by an enclosed transom, while the north storefront has an original, wood framed, glass door. A single-light wood door surmounted by a single-light transom is located at the west end of the facade and open to the stairs leading to the second floor. The central first story bay contains the box office flanked by groups of three, wood-framed, glass entry doors. The octagonal box office is original to the theatre and is still used for its original purpose. Its lower exterior walls are sheathed in aluminum panels, while its upper walls consist of plate glass windows. A door on the inner wall of the box office provides access from the vestibule. A sign board is located above the box office and main doors and beneath the marquee. The facade wall is trimmed with sandstone. Sandstone cornices extends above the first and second story openings, and sandstone pilasters define the bays of the first story facade. The date of construction, 1927, is carved at the base of the south pilaster. The second story facade bays are also delineated by pilasters. End second story facade bays contain single narrow, one over one, double hung sash windows, while the remaining bays contain wider one over one, double hung sash windows. These windows are ornamented with sandstone, false keystone lintels. Blank Roman arches surmount the windows in the second bay from either end above the recessed storefront doors. The remaining second story windows are topped by rectangular sandstone plaques. The pilaster capitals ornamentally support a sandstone fascia and cornice, and a flat parapet crowns the facade wall. Side elevations of the theatre are utilitarian, finished in stucco. Both side elevations contain steel exit doors. HVAC equipment enclosures rise from the roof of the building. The main entry doors to the theatre provide access to a full-width vestibule illuminated with a replacement brass ceiling light fixture chosen to reflect the design of the original fixture. Wood door surrounds and crown moldings are original. The end walls of the vestibule feature bulletin boards and projecting cast iron radiators. Doors at either end of the vestibule provide access to the lobby. The lobby is illuminated by ceiling fixtures installed after the theatre was refurbished by its current tenant. These brass and crystal fixtures were chosen to resemble those that would have been originally installed. A refreshment stand is located in the center of the lobby and is flanked by single-light, two-leaf, wood, auditorium doors. Rectangular windows to the left and right of these doors provide views into the auditorium. Staircases on either side of the lobby provide access to the restrooms located on the second floor. An opening has been broken through the left wall of the lobby to provide access to a storefront outfitted as a gallery. The gallery, a single open space, is reached by a wood ramp from the lobby. Its floor is wood, its walls sheathed in wallboard, and modern track lighting is installed on the ceiling. Original elements include the baseboard, crown molding, and the transom surround with corner blocks. The frames for the transom windows that illuminated the recessed entryway are visible, although the windows themselves are covered. The theatre?s handicapped restroom is presently located in a corner of the gallery space. The highlight of the interior of the theatre are the Neo-classical murals depicting scenes from ancient Greece and Rome with idealized men and women and the false stage boxes and balconies. The murals, painted in oil by an unknown artist, decorate the rear portions of the side walls. The stage end of the side walls contains false balconies, painted in gilt, that feature arched openings with ornamental keystones. These arched panels are flanked by rectangular, gilt-painted panels forming Palladian motifs. Plaster swags decorate the panels above the arches. Gilt Corinthian columns divide the front portions of the side walls. The original balcony is now used as a green room on one side and an enlarged ladies? room on the other side. The auditorium is divided into three sections with a wider central section and narrower side sections. Aisles extend the length of the auditorium along either side of the center section and along the side walls. An aisle also extends along the back of the auditorium. No pillars or posts spoil the sight lines of the 471 seats. This seat total is reduced from the original 600 because of an extension of the stage. A 12-foot by 30-foot Greek Revival arch defines the shallow vaudeville stage. A small orchestra pit is located to the right of the stage. The ceiling, which may have originally been plastered, fell in the late 1930s, probably due to a roof leak. It is now sheathed in acoustic tile, and a variety of chandeliers and theatre lighting fixtures hand from it. All of the fixtures were installed by the building?s present tenant. The rear wall of the auditorium is decorated with two stubby columns located next to single light wood doors. The soundboard is now located at the rear of the auditorium. The fascia of the base of the balcony is still visible. The projection booth, located at the center of the balcony, now houses spotlights and other lighting for theatrical productions. The original metal-lined walls of the booth are still intact. The shallow backstage area between the former movie screen and the brick rear theatre wall has been adapted as dressing rooms. These small spaces have been partitioned into cubicles by wood-framed plywood partitions. A wood-framed stairway has also been constructed backstage to provide access to a mezzanine dressing room, originally the organ pipe loft. This dressing room is also enclosed with plywood panels, some of which have been autographed by actors in theatre productions. One side of this dressing room contains a curtained opening that looks out onto the auditorium and is occasionally used in theatrical productions. The front of the theatre building has a second floor. This space is accessible from the exterior door located to the left of the marquee and from a doorway opposite the men?s restroom door. Before the space was renovated, it consisted of a series of rooms along the facade wall with a hallway running the width of the building. These rooms appear to have been used as sleeping rooms by vaudeville performers. Each contained a sink, and a common toilet and shower served all the rooms. The second floor now contains theatre offices. Most of the original partitioning remains intact. Two east rooms have been combined as one to provide a meeting and rehearsal space for the theatre. The balcony, formerly located on the opposite side of the hallway, has been converted to new uses. These include a green room, an enlarged women?s restroom, and the subscription office. The green room has an enclosed shallow arch in one wall and is illuminated by a stained glass hanging light fixture. A stairway at the east end of the second floor provides access to the director?s office located in the east storefront of the theatre. This carpeted space is largely illuminated by track lighting. Lighting in the office spaces consist primarily of hanging light fixtures. Though installed in recent years, these fixtures were chosen to reflect the original character of the building. Because of the condition of the theatre at the time it was leased by Puttin? on the Ritz and the needs of a live theatre company, much of the interior of the building has been refurbished. This refurbishment has included chandelier, sconce and theatre lighting installation in the auditorium; extension of the stage into the auditorium; removal of the front rows of auditorium seats; construction of a gallery and restrooms; installation of lobby light fixtures; construction of dressing rooms and a stage stairway; construction of a green room in a portion of the former balcony, and alterations to second floor rooms. Despite these changes, the theatre retains architectural integrity. The facade has been little altered. Principle spaces remain intact including the auditorium, the lobby, and the box office, and the auditorium retains its original wall paintings. Those changes made have been in the interest in retaining the building as a theatre, a function it has served for 75 years.
Statement of Significance
The Ritz Theatre, built in 1927 by the William E. Butler Company as a neighborhood movie theatre serving Oaklyn and Haddon Township, is a product of the streetcar suburb development of the 1920s that resulted in expansion of Camden in the post-World War I era. Contextually it relates to both the expansion of motion picture venues during the twenties and the development of the ring suburbs of Camden City and as an example of the development of the suburban movie theatre. The Ritz Theatre also meets National Register Criterion C both as a well-preserved example of a building type, the 1920s neighborhood ?movie palace?, as a locally significant example of Classical Revival architecture. Particularly notable are the auditorium murals, featuring classical scenes, the composition ornament at the front of the auditorium used to form the stage boxes and gilt Corinthian columns, and the surviving original ticket booth and marquee. The theatre retains all aspects of integrity and clearly conveys associations with the time of its construction.
Camden County Suburban Growth
The 1920s marked a period of substantial growth for Camden City and its nearby suburbs. Industries such as the Victor Talking Machine Company, the New York Shipbuilding Company, and Joseph Campbell Company, made the city an industrial center and employed residents of both Camden and nearby communities. Streetcar lines extended along major thoroughfares such as White and Black Horse Pikes and Haddon Avenue, and commercial districts developed along these major thoroughfares to serve the residents of the surrounding communities. One such commercial district, which developed along White Horse Pike, was Oaklyn, built along the streetcar line between Clementon and the Federal Street ferry in Camden. This district served the borough of the same name, as well as the adjacent portion of Haddon Township. Access to Haddon Township, Oaklyn and other communities along the White Horse Pike was improved with the straightening, widening and resurfacing of the highway in the early 1920s. Also in the 1920s, local real estate interests developed the Edward Bettle Homestead along the White Horse Pike in Oaklyn. During the same decade, the population of Haddon Township increased from 2,708 to 9,198 and Oaklyn from 1,148 to 3,843.(2) A walk along the streets extending off the White Horse Pike testifies to the growth of the area in the decade. Bungalows and Dutch Colonial residences line the streets. The former Bettlewood School, now Jennings Elementary School, opened in 1927, the same year as the Ritz. Many of the two-story commercial blocks that line older portions of the commercial district, also were built during the decade. The Ritz was a landmark in the Oaklyn commercial district and exemplified the commercial boom that took place during the period. As a keystone of the White Horse Pike development, the Ritz Theatre is significant under National Register Criterion A for its role in local community development.
The 1920s Movie Palace
Recognizing the potential market for the new ?talkies? or motion pictures with sound, motion picture chains erected theatres in most suburban communities of Camden County in the 1920s. In the same year that the Ritz opened, Haddon Township?s other theatre, the Westmont, opened on Haddon Avenue. Other local theatres open at the time of the Ritz?s debut included Gloucester City?s Apollo and Leader, Haddonfield?s Colonial, Audubon?s Highland and New Century, and Merchantville?s Park. Camden City was served by 11 theatres including the Walt Whitman and the Stanley. American cultural historian Chester H. Liebs cited the importance of the movie theatre to small-town commercial districts of the 1920s in a recently published essay: More than simply another business along the sidewalk, the new houses of entertainment, for the most part, visually upstaged their more staid commercial neighbors. In fact, by the 1920s, the iconic force of the movie house had become so powerful in the public mind that the brightly lit marquee, touting the latest movie playing in town, became a sure sign that the main street or neighborhood shopping area had ?made it.? (3) The Ritz served this role in Oaklyn. It punctuated an otherwise staid on Haddon Avenue and were important landmarks in those two communities. The Ritz Theatre and the New Century Theatre still stand on White Horse Pike, historically serving destinations in Oaklyn and Audubon, while the Harwin Theatre anchored a small commercial district along the Black Horse Pike in Mount Ephraim. Of these theatres, only the Ritz and the Harwin continue in use as theatres. The Collingswood theatre now is primarily used to house a web page design firm, the Westmont Theatre is vacant, while the New Century Theatre houses a costume store.*
The Architecture of the Movie Theatre
Developing from the earlier Nickelodeons, the motion picture theatre of the 1920s was typically known as a ?picture palace.? The most elaborate examples of the type were built in the largest American cities: Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and Philadelphia. These theatres, such as Philadelphia?s Stanley and Mastbaum had designs that, in the words of theatre historian David Naylor, ?mirrored that of Old World palaces of the past.? (4) Suburban theatres, built with smaller budgets than their big-city cousins, rarely matched their exuberance, but many, including the Ritz, echoed the larger buildings in an auditorium designed to transport the audience into a world far removed from the street outside. The Ritz?s architects, a Philadelphia firm, were no doubt influenced by the architecture of contemporary Philadelphia theatres, many of which were designed by their competitors, Hoffman and Henon. This firm was one of the more conservative of its day with many of its facades designed in the Beaux-Arts or Classical Revival style. (5). The firm?s monumental Classical Revival compositions included Philadelphia?s Stanley, Mastbaum, and Erlanger. (6) The movie theatres of the 1920s were, for the most part, designed not to blend in with the surrounding buildings but to serve as a focal point. In most cases, their scale was larger than the surrounding buildings. They often rose above the two-story taxpayer strips of the streetcar suburbs that stretched outward from the center cities of the Eastern and Midwestern United States. While many downtown commercial buildings that lined such streets as Haddon Avenue and White and Black Horse Pikes were anonymous blocks with storefront on the ground level and apartments above movie theatres often showed the hand of an architect with facade ornament and marquee intended to draw customers. The marquee was designed to grab the attention of the passerby with bright lights, colors, and large frequently changing signs. Because of the desire to reflect an architectural statement, the style of the buildings differed from the architecture of the community in which they were located. For example, the Collingswood Theatre has a 1920s Spanish Colonial facade, an innovation in a community that at the time has its main thoroughfare dominated by late Victorian-Colonial Revival buildings. The Westmont, the Ritz, and Audubon?s Century all employed Classical Revival decorative elements. Unlike the Ritz, the Westmont and Century are free standing landmarks rather than parts of commercial strips. The Century, now used as the home of Capa?s Costumes, occupies the prominent corner of Kings Highway and White Horse Pike in Audubon. Although altered, some of its original grandeur can still be discerned. Its three part facade features a slightly projecting central section with a marquee projecting from the first floor. The facade, which is constructed of brick, now painted white, is divided by brick pilasters with acanthus leaf capitals. The ends of the facade are marked by paired pilasters. Most facade openings have been infilled but gabled window frames are still visible above the marquee. Other decorative elements include a dentilled cornice with paterae and a flat parapet with two central plaques. Both of these plaques feature central shields flanked by griffins which are in turn flanked by sculpted vines. The auditorium had a gabled roof topped by metal ventilators. The stage was marked by a large, tall brick fly loft. The Westmont Theatre, though vacant and deteriorating, still possesses an elaborately detailed facade facing Haddon Avenue. This facade, faced in beige brick and beige metal panels features a full-width marquee with neon lights spelling out ?Westmont.? A metal-clad ticket office is placed in the center of the ground floor and is flanked by glass doors. The upper story bays are marked by Ionic pilasters. Tall arched top metal frame windows are placed in the three center bays, while the end bays contain metal-framed casement windows placed in gabled surrounds. Stone plaques are placed above these end windows. The facade is crowned by a metal fascia and dentilled cornice. The parapet has a central signboard identifying the building as the Westmont Theatre.
The Classical Revival
The Classical Revival may have been chosen for the theatres because it connoted a civil landmark in many small towns and suburbs. In addition to theatres, this style was often used for governmental buildings, telephone buildings, and banks. Examples of other types of Classical Revival buildings in nearby communities include the Collingswood Borough Hall, a former bank; the former Bell Telephone (now Verizon Building) in Collingswood; and the Haddonfield Public Library. The present Borough Hall, located on Haddon Avenue, has been altered in its conversion from a bank but retains its stone facade, paired fluted pilasters, first floor window openings with shelf lintels, and elaborate door surround with a clock in the pediment. The three-story, brick Bell Telephone building also features a stone door surround, rectangular stone window surrounds, and a balustraded parapet. The Haddonfield Library?s design is based on Thomas Jefferson?s Monticello. A brick, single story building, its west facade features a pedimented entrance portico. Fenestration consists of 12 over 12 windows with splayed lintels with false keystone. The walls are crowned by a bracketed wood cornice, and a low dome rises from the roof. Among the characteristic stylistic elements displayed by the Ritz are a symmetrical facade with pilasters and false arched openings, and the use of stone panels to punctuate and elaborate the facade of a brick building. As noted, a more exuberant rendition of the Classical Revival is displayed in the auditorium with its false boxes, Corinthian columns, and painted murals. These elements contribute to the Ritz? place as a Classical Revival building that conveys local significance under Criterion C as one of the most elaborate and best preserved buildings of its style in the Camden suburban ring.
The Theatre Program
Unlike today, when a trip to the movie theatre includes only a movie introduced by previews of coming attractions, in the 1920s, a visit to the theatre meant an afternoon of varied entertainment. Audiences were entertained by the movie itself, by a concert from the theatre organist, and by live vaudeville or dramatic entertainment. For example, in 1929, Camden?s New Lyric Theatre presented a double feature of The Black Watch and The Big Squalk on the same bill with a stage show featuring Fargo and Richards in Something Different. The Clementon Theatre featured five vaudeville acts and the Clementon orchestra presented along with its feature, Paul Muni in The Valiant.(7) In the early years, the Ritz offered a similar program of music, live theatre, and motion pictures.
Groundbreaking for The Ritz Theatre in 1927.
In 1927, when the Ritz Theatre opened, Camden County had a wealth of movie houses. Listings in the Camden Courier for September 12, 1927, the date of the theatre?s opening, include a total of ten movie and two legitimate theatres in Camden City, two theatres in Gloucester City, as well as theatres in Audubon, Haddonfield, Westmont (Haddon Township), and Merchantville. Within a few years, new theatres had opened in Delsea, West Collingswood, Clementon, and Audubon. Seventy years later, few of these theatres remain. Camden City does not have a single historic theatre. The Westmont Theatre, which opened in the same month as the Ritz, was recently vacated by its last tenant, a theatre troupe. The New Century Theatre in Audubon now houses a costume company, while the Collingswood Theatre (National Register-listed) recently housed a photography studio and the recording venue of the Philadelphia Orchestra and now houses a website design firm. Of the Camden County theatres listed in 1927, only the Ritz remains largely unaltered and in active use. It is now the home of Puttin? on the Ritz of Oaklyn, Inc., a regional professional theatre group. Ground was broken for the Ritz Theatre in February 1927 in a ceremony in which Mayor Charles C. Durgess and other Oaklyn borough officials took part. (Although the theatre is in Haddon Township, it is located in an area considered part of the central business district of Oaklyn Borough). The Ritz was built as part of the William E. Butler & Son chain of theatres. Butler, headquartered in Philadelphia, also operated the Elvay Theatre in the Frankford neighborhood of Philadelphia and the Clearfield Theatre in the Kensington neighborhood. The Ritz opened at 6:15pm on September 12, 1927, showing Marion Davies in Tillie the Toiler. This movie was followed in rapid succession by Pleasures of the Rich, Heart of Salome, and Out of the Storm. Films were initially changed four times weekly. The latest releases from Metro-Goldwyn, First National, Warner and other companies were shown. A total of 1,200 people attended the first day?s showings.(8) The theatre was a typical small neighborhood movie house like many others constructed in suburban areas at about the same time. Its appearance was described in an opening day article in the Camden Courier: ?...of buff brick, with an imposing entrance, the building is one of Oaklyn's most attractive structures. The interior, however, may be too briefly described as being extremely tasteful in coloring tints and pleasing decorations. There is real artistry displayed in the effect of the soft lighting scheme, blending so harmoniously with all surroundings. The total absence of garishness is its greatest attractiveness. The decorations are the original designs of William E. Butler.? The theatre originally had a capacity of 800, all orchestra seats. Theatre appointments included the seats, described as the identical type installed in the million dollar Freihofer Theatre in New York; a Simplex picture machine, touted as representative of the ?world?s greatest projectors?; and a Brown cooling system, designed to maintain an interior temperature 35 degrees cooler than the exterior temperature on the hottest days of summer.(9) Clem Rizzo of Philadelphia supplied the theatre's projectors and booth equipment. The original projector, sound equipment and original amber lighting remains in the theatre. Theatre seats were furnished by L.E. and E.C. Stone, seating engineers and contractors of Philadelphia; iron and steel was furnished by the American Iron Works of Camden; lumber by E. Frank Pine of Blackwood; concrete by John J. Brolin of Camden; the buff vertical chenille face bricks by E. Brown Pardee of Collingswood; draperies by the Reliable Decorative Company of Philadelphia; carpet by the Hardwick & Magee Company of Philadelphia; and HVAC equipment by the American Heating & Ventilating Company of Philadelphia. Music in the theatre was originally provided by a $25,000 orchestration, a pneumatic organ equipped with pipes intended to replicate most of the instruments in the symphony orchestra. This instrument was described in an article in The Retrospect as "the Equivalent in tone and in musical selection of a fifty-piece orchestra." It was first played by Edward Sheppard who also operated a music store in the building. The total cost of the theatre was estimated at $400,000. (10) For several years prior to joining forces with Hill, Hodgens spent a major portion of working hours designing theatres. His earliest known theatre commission was the Nixon Theatre and stores in Chester, Pennsylvania, designed for Thomas M. Love in 1919. Other theatre designs of Hodgens included the American Theatre (7th & Girard streets, Philadelphia), the Criterion Theatre (Moorestown, New Jersey), a theatre for Abraham Felt (Broad and Girard streets, Philadelphia), the Felt Brothers Theatres (Baltimore Avenue, Philadelphia), and a theatre for Marcus A. Benn and the Stanley Company (63rd Street and Woodland Avenue, Philadelphia). The partnership of Hodgens and Hill continued to receive theatre commissions. Among them were the Bala Theatre (Bala, Pennsylvania); alterations and additions to the Franklin Theatre (South Street, Philadelphia); the Crosskeys Theatre (5931 Market Street, Philadelphia), the Commodore Theatre (43rd and Walnut streets, Philadelphia); the Boyd Theatre (19th and Chestnut streets, Philadelphia); the Circle Theatre (4662 Frankford Avenue, Philadelphia); the Earle Theatre (11th and Market streets, Philadelphia); the Karlton Theatre alterations and additions to the Strand Theatre (Atlantic City); theatres for N.J. Taub, Inc., H. Roy Whitaker, and William Freihofer in Philadelphia, and additions to the Clearfield Theatre in Philadelphia. The firm's best known theatre commission was the Tower Theatre of 1928 which is still in use at 69th and Ludlow streets in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania. (11) In its early years, the Ritz presented a mixture of movies and vaudeville acts typical of smaller theatres of its day. An article in The Retrospect at the time of its reopening as a legitimate theatre described its original fare: ?The theatre opened as a combination celluloid or film and variety theatre. The custom then was for smaller theatres not on the major circuits to run continuous showings of films and acts. Five variety acts usually accompanied the feature films which included at the Ritz classics by Lon Chaney, Marion Davies and Clara Bow.? (12) A Collingswood resident, John D?Alessandro, remembered performing at the Ritz with his brother Michael in the mid-1930s. The two were members of the George Stratton Song and Dance Revue: ?Dressed in loud suits, straw hats and can, they danced on skates while singing strolling through the park one day in the merry, merry month of May.? (13) Advertisements placed in the Camden Courier give information about the motion pictures presented at the theatre. For example, in July 1928, the theatre presented the film version of Victor Hugo?s Les Miserables, Douglas Fairbanks in The Gaucho, Harry Langdon in The Chaser, and George K. Arthur and Karl Dane in Baby Mine. In August 1929, a typical week included Renee Adoree in Tide of Empire as well as three acts of vaudeville, Willard Mack in Voice of the City (advertised as ?100% Talkie?), the Fox Follies of 1939 advertised as ?all singing-talking-dancing? and Bridge of San Louis Rey, also accompanied by three acts of vaudeville. In September 1930, moviegoers could watch Jack Oakie in Sap from Syracuse, H.B. Warner in Wild Company, Jack Holt in Vengeance, Greta Garbo in Romance, and Benny Rubin in Sunny Skies. Vaudeville acts accompanied at least the last film. The theatre's original ceiling fell in the 1930s. After the damage was repaired, the capacity of the theatre was reduced from 800 to 600. Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, the theatre continued to show first run movies. For example, in December 1940, the Ritz presented Don Ameche and Betty Grable in Down Argentine Way. By the mid-1950s, the Ritz had become part of the Samuel Varsalow chain of theatres that included three in Camden City, as well as the New Century in Audubon, the Collingswood, the Westmont, and the King in Gloucester City. It shared movies with other theatres of the chain. In March 1956, the theatre presented The Last Frontier, as well as Glenn Ford and Donna Reed in Ransom. During the latter part of the 1950s and into the 1960s, the theatre began to emphasize fine art and foreign films to create a niche for itself and to differentiate it from the increasing numbers of theatres constructed as post-war suburban expansion continued space. For example, in September 1962, the theatre presented Murder She Said, followed by Dirk Bogarde, John Mills, and Mylene Demonreot in The Singer Not the Song, described in a Camden Courier-Post advertisement as ?a new and powerfully different kind of motion picture story.? By the 1970s, the theatre had become infamous. The foreign and art films had been replaced by pornography. It was operated by Budco, a company that also operated another pornographic theatre in Pennsauken. Films with such titles as Starlet Nights, Purely Physical, Airport Girls, and Man and Wife were invariably advertised with an ?X? rating. The Ritz movie theatre closed in early 1985.
Ritz Gala Night (2004)
Ritz lobby (2003)
Ritz auditorium and stage (2003)
Ritz auditorium murals(2003)
|In August 1985, Bruce Curless, a Delaware Valley producer and director, held an organizational meeting with the aim of acquiring the Ritz as the home for a legitimate professional theatre. By October 1985, the enterprise, a stock company called Puttin? on the Ritz, Inc., took occupancy of the theatre and began preparations for a full theatre season beginning January 1986. The first season opened on January 17, 1986 with The Boy Friend directed by Curless. The cast of this inaugural presentation was chosen from over 150 auditioners from the entire Delaware Valley area. The Ritz currently presents a full season of six subscription productions, as well as children?s theatre and special productions. Its 2002 season began with a production of Gilbert and Sullivan?s The Mikado. Puttin? on the Ritz, Inc. is presently a non-profit organization that hopes to take ownership of the theatre in 2002.|
*Historical Updates:As of 2004, the New Century Theatre (a.k.a. the Century Theatre) was demolished and an Eckert Drug Store was built on the spot. As of 2005, the Eckert drug store had closed and vacated the new building. As of 2006, the Harwan Theatre is closed and scheduled for demolition to build a Walgreen's drug store. As of 2006 the Westmont Theatre awaits redevelopment plans.
Sources: National Register of Historic Places Narrative and historic and modern photographs, The Ritz Theatre Company, Puttin' on the Ritz, Inc.; Endnotes --- 1. Richard Longstreth, The Buildings of Main Street: A Guide to American Commercial Architecture (Washington: The Preservation Press, 1987), 24. 2. Jeffrey M. Dorwart and Philip English Mackey, Camden County, New Jersey, 1616-1976: A Narrative History (Camden County Cultural and Heritage Commission, 1976), 217, 221-222, 24. 3. Chester H. Liebs, ?Silent Screens in a New Century,? in Silent Screens: The Decline and Transformation of the American Movie Theatre, edited by Michael Putnam (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000), 77. 4. David Naylor, Great American Movie Theatres (Washington, D.C.: The Preservation Press, 1987), 19. 5. David Naylor, American Picture Palace (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, 1981), 60. 6. Irwin Glazer. 7. ?New Bettlewood Show House Attracts Crowds,? The Retrospect, September 16, 1927. 8. ?Oaklyn to Open Handsome New Playhouse Tonight,? Evening Courier, September 12, 1927:17. 9. ?New Bettlewood Show House Attracts Crowds,? The Retrospect, September 16, 1927. 10. ?Westmont Theatre Opens Labor Day,? The Retrospect, September 2, 1927 11. Sandra L. Tautman and Roger W. Moss, Biographical Dictionary of Philadelphia Architects: 1700-1930 (Boston: G.K. Hall & Company, 1985):378, 383-385 12. ?Ritz Theatre to Reopen with Stage Production,? The Retrospect, December 26, 1985 13. Ibid. --- Major Bibliographical References Courier and Courier Post. Assorted issues, 1927-1984 Dorwart, Jeffrey M. and Philip English Mackey. Camden County, New Jersey, 1616-1976: A Narrative History. Camden County Cultural and Heritage Commission, 1976. Liebs, Chester H. Silent Screens in a New Century. In Silent Screens: The Decline and Transformation of the American Movie Theatre, edited by Michael Putnam. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University, 2000. Naylor, David. American Picture Palaces. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, 1981. Naylor, David. Great American Movie Theatres. Washington, D.C.: Preservation Press, 1987. ?New Bettlewood Show House Attracts Crowds.? The Retrospect (Collingswood), September 16,1927. ?Oaklyn to Open New Handsome Theatre Tonight.? Camden Morning Post, September 12, 1927. ?Premiere Production Features Local Cast.? The Retrospect (Collingswood), January 16, 1986. ?Ritz Theatre to Reopen with Stage Production.? The Retrospect (Collingswood), December 26, 1985. Tatman, Sandra L. and Roger W. Moss. Biographical Dictionary of Philadelphia Architects. Boston: G.K. Hall, 1985. ?To Open Handsome New Theatre Tonight.? Evening Courier, September 12, 1927. ?Westmont Theatre Opens Labor Day.? The Retrospect (Collingswood), September 2, 1927. Verbal boundary description Haddon Township Tax Parcel Block 7.09, Lot 31 Verbal boundary justification The nominated property includes the entire parcel historically associated with the theatre. Copy of nomination information provided by Donna L. Miller, Director of Development, The Ritz Theatre Company, Inc., 915 White Horse Pike, Arts District, Haddon Township, NJ 08107.