State Theatre celebrates 25 years of rebirth

Performing arts center was reopened in 1988 as an expanded live venue

More than 2.5 million people have walked along Livingston Avenue in New Brunswick over the past 25 years.

They were all walking toward the State Theatre, which celebrated its 25th anniversary of its grand reopening as a performing arts center on April 24.

The State Theatre is recognizing its anniversary with a year-long schedule of special activities, including free performances for members of the community, family events and expanded artistic programming.

One of the events will be a special co-presentation with New Brunswick City Market and New Brunswick Public Sculpture on July 7. It will include activities to mark the third reading of the Declaration of Independence, preceded by a free screening of the musical film “1776” at the State Theatre.

Completed in 1921 and designed by one of the most accomplished theater architects of the day, Thomas W. Lamb, the State Theatre was built as a grand movie palace in the heyday of silent film and vaudeville. The theater rapidly established a reputation as the “class act” in town, known for its array of cinematic and live attractions.

Stars appearing in person at the theater in its early days included Bob Hope, Barbara Stanwyck, Minnie Pearl, Gary Cooper, Bela Lugosi and Houdini.

The theater continued to thrive well into the 1960s, when audiences began flocking to new suburban multiplex cinemas. By the 1970s, the theater was in ruins. In 1979, the theater was purchased by the New Brunswick Development Corporation as part of the New Brunswick revitalization project. By the fall of 1987, work was underway, and by April 1988, it was transformed back into a handsome, well-equipped facility for live performances.

Today, the State Theatre is the largest performing arts venue in central New Jersey and has achieved record attendance, presenting a wide variety of events, including classical music, ballet, comedy, contemporary dance, Broadway, pop, rock and family programs.