Now playing: a coastal town’s rite of summer
With Cape May’s historic movie theater at a crossroads, supporters race to write a happy ending.
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Today, an architectural evaluation says the building qualifies for listing in the State and National Registers of Historic Places, while the nonprofit Preservation New Jersey calls it one of the 10 most endangered historical and cultural sites in the state.Skip to next paragraph
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The Foundation, which is now leasing the Beach, has brought the theater back from what some saw as near squalor, with new heating and air conditioning, refurbished curtains, and new paint. Plans call for reconfigured seating and for restoration of the neon sign, marquee, and geranium gardens out front, as well as for fountains and possibly celebrity handprints.
Right now, there’s the stamp of a place that’s loved: homey curtains in the bathrooms, wicker cafe tables and chairs in the lobby, old movie posters framed on the walls. Mr. Jackson envisions the renovated space in part as a salon for film buffs, with ushers and candy sellers who are sources of information and enthusiasm. And if the Beach someday becomes the Sundance of the East – well, so much the better.
But while the Foundation originally focused on the art house and “film” possibilities, popular demand and the tradition of the beachfront icon have convinced them that people who want to see “movies” may be their bread and butter.
“This theater is about ‘Jaws,’ ” says Jackson.
The infant operation can cover its expenses for now, but is open to every potential revenue stream. There are naming rights available should, perhaps, a Comcast want a neon acknowledgment of its generosity up on the marquee. And why wouldn’t Sony or Dolby want to use the place as a lab for their state-of-the-art technology? After all, the original theater introduced Vista Vision and stereophonic sound – once city innovations – to the boonies.
The group has an option to buy the place for $12 million, and Jackson is confident that they can land, if not a sympathetic and wealthy angel donor, then at least a like-minded developer/partner, one familiar with the workings of historic properties, nonprofits, and the tax benefits that can make such a project work. Jackson believes the deal can also benefit the group that owns the building, Frank Investments; he points to the firm’s willingness to lease the theater to the foundation – rather than sell it immediately – as a sign of support.
Says Bruce Frank, the firm’s president, “We hope that they are successful” in securing a developer, but “if they are unable to, we will go forward with our [condo] project.”
From his vantage point in the box office, manager Tom Fink says customers are delighted simply to see the theater open after last year’s threatened closing. They like the improvements, and attendance is up 25 percent. “It’s been a boring year,” he says. “To me, that’s a good year. It means everybody in town is happy.”
To you, it means another summer marked by the walk to the Beach. Add this – the year of “Get Smart” and “Dark Knight” – to the year you saw your first Woody Allen movie, and the year you let the kids go with their cousins to see “Forrest Gump.”
Popcorn finished and credits rolling, you head home by way of the boardwalk. For a block, there’s the whirl of kiddie rides and fudge shops, most of them winding down by this hour. Then it’s all ocean – the shush of waves, the pungent breeze. The gigantic moon that was only an orange smudge in the sky when you set out now hangs full and bright over the water. Some nights the sky is so clear that you can see the lights down in Delaware. Other nights, the fog billows in, so heavy it soaks your hair and obscures even the few steps ahead.
Another summer. Another movie. And happily, not yet The End.