Sepia Saturday #339: Usher Me In

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Giving a salute and spiffy in his red uniform with blue epaulets, this little usher brings a bouquet of flowers to Aunt Sadie from her Uncle Hank and his first wife Laura.

I had a devil of a time with this prompt photo. The theater that I (and my parents) went to in our younger years was the Newton Theatre which is located at the corner of Madison and Spring Streets in Newton, Sussex County, New Jersey.

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First, I thought, let’s explore the role of an usher in a movie theater. The AMC theater chain describes their usher duties as:

AMC Theater ushers spend shifts mostly roaming theaters, ensuring safety, and engaging guests. Employees help maintain clean facilities, such as lobbies, concession stands, hallways, and auditoriums. Many people may identify ushers as ticket takers who direct patrons to theaters. Additional job duties include putting up new movie posters, setting up displays, and tending to any customer complaints and concerns. Applicants looking for employment with AMC Theatres must meet several hiring requirements. Positions require workers to communicate effectively with customers, especially during rushes. AMC also seeks ushers with work schedule flexibility, as some showings play well past midnight.“[1]

And then let’s see how many people describe their occupation as ushers in Newton, Sussex County, New Jersey, in the censuses in 1930, the first census after the Newton Theatre opened on May 15, 1924. None. Zip. Nada. Zero. At least according to a very unhelpful search of ancestry.com using “usher” or “movie” as a keyword. (Just saying, their search function STINKS.)

Okay, well then, how about tracing who owned the theater over the years through the deeds. Sussex County has those online through their ROAM system. Nothing historical there except the legal description from a notice of settlement document of the theater in 2016 from a survey taken in 2011: [2]

“ALL that certain lot, piece or parcel of land, with the building and improvements thereon erected, situate, lying and being in the Town of Newton, in the County of Sussex, State of New Jersey:
BEGINNING at a  point on the southwesterly right of way line of Spring Street (60 feet right of way), said point being at the intersection with the northwesterly right of way line of Madison Street (40 feet right of way) and running: thence
1) South 53 degrees 28 minutes 00 seconds West, a distance of 124.10 feet to a point; thence
2) North 37 degrees 07 minutes 00 seconds West, a distance of 104.05 feet to a point; thence
3) North 52 degrees 15 minutes 00 seconds East, a distance of 123.14 feet to a point; thence
4) South 37 degrees 30 minutes 00 seconds East, a distance of 50.19 feet to a point; thence
5) South 37 degrees 45 minutes 00 seconds East, a distance of 56.40 feet to a point and place of BEGINNING.
The above description is in accordance with a survey made by Morgan Engineering, L.L.C., dated April 7, 2011.
FOR INFORMATION PURPOSES ONLY: BEING known as 234 Spring St, Tax Lot 10, Tax Block 8.06 on the Official Tax Map of Town of Newton, NJ.”

Then looking up the Official Tax Map of Newton shows the theatre:[3]

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Still not very interesting…. How about what movies were popular in 1924? Some of them were: Peter Pan (not Disney) starring Betty Bronson, Sherlock Jr. starring Buster Keaton, The Thief of Bagdad starring Douglas Fairbanks, Hot Water starring Harold Lloyd, Beau Brummell starring John Barrymore and Mary Astor, and Leap Year starring Fatty Arbuckle.

A listing of movies from 1924 to present could take all day to read. You haven’t the time and, besides, the IMDB does a much better job of it.

So then I did a search online for some historical articles that would have run in the New Jersey Herald about the grand opening of the theater or perhaps some newspaper advertisements that relate to the Newton Theater. Again, it was a bust. Bummer.

The most robust source of information was on the website of the current owners but still not best quality history of the theater.

I do know that the one-screen theater was split into two sometime in the early 1980s to try to compete with the rise of the multiplexes opened in the malls popping up around Sussex and Morris counties. It didn’t work and the Newton Theater was closed and reopened a number of times between 1997 and 2010 as the owners tried to find the right balance to keep the theater open.

In 2011, the current owners restored the theater by taking down the dividing wall and refurbishing the fixtures and plaster walls. It reopened as a music/live entertainment venue on 09 September 2011 to a sold out crowd who came to see Todd Rungren.

I may have to stop into the Sussex County historical society on my next trip home to rummage around their old newspapers to see if I can’t find something a little more interesting for a future post!

The concept behind these weekly Saturday posts can be found at Sepia Saturday Intro.
Theme taken from Sepia Saturday photo: movie theatre

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[1] http://www.job-applications.com/amc-movie-theater-usher/
[2] Sussex County, New Jersey, Land record no.20160616010105420, Newton Theatre Company, grantor, to First Hope Bank, grantee, 16 June 2016; digital images, Jeffrey M. Parrott, County Clerk, Sussex County Public Access ROAM (http://sussex.landrecordsonline.com : accessed 12 July 2016).
[3] http://www.newtontownhall.com/DocumentCenter/View/1101

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4 thoughts on “Sepia Saturday #339: Usher Me In

  1. A sweet card. No ushers dress like that these days, or not in Australia anyway. At least your local theatre hasn’t been demolished. Good luck finding out more about it!

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  2. Great post! When my wife and I went to out earlier this summer to see some forgettable blockbuster, we were the only people in the theater. The adverts, trailers, and feature are all automated. The only other person was at the end of the film when the lights came on and a sad young fellow came in to sweep up the popcorn. He wasn’t wearing a smart uniform either.

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  3. I like the idea of focussing on the ushers. There was a great photo or two of ushers that I was thinking of using….by and large women here rather than boys. Ooh Todd Rungren…my husband would have loved to have gone to that concert.

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  4. As usual you’ve provided a charming card and a nice story to go with it. I remember ushers, but my strangest experience was a rundown theater in Hollywood where they never shut the lights all the way off because of the clientele. A friend took me there to see Foul Play which had been out the year before so was no longer first run. The “usher” was a guy who walked around with a big flashlight which he would shine onto the faces of people who were making a disturbance. I couldn’t wait for the movie to end so I could get out of the place.

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