The Count Basie Theater Red Bank

Real Estate Agent with Crossroads Realty Inc


The history of The Count Basie Theater 

Even though there were already several other theatres in the Borough of Red Bank, New Jersey by 1925 (including the Strand, Palace, Empire and Lyric Theatres), on July 29, 1925 the Red Bank Register reported that Joseph Oschwald of Little Silver had announced plans to build a theatre on Monmouth Street.

Projected to open eight months later on April 1, 1926, the new theatre would have seating for about 2,000 persons and be equipped for moving pictures, vaudeville and dramatic shows. The ninety foot by one hundred and ten foot theatre would include a wide lobby on Monmouth Street flanked by two storefronts, and a stage entrance for scenery via a ten-foot wide strip of land around the corner on Pearl Street. The noted theatre architect Thomas W. Lamb was reported to be drawing the plans for the new building, with an exterior of white terra cotta, and an interior finished in Old Gold and Red. The property and the rights of way for the land were purchased for $21,000, and the projected construction cost was $300,000 to $500,000.

For the next forty-seven years the theatre was one of the highlights of nightlife in downtown Red Bank, and it outlasted all of its contemporaries, including the Strand, Palace, Empire and Lyric Theatres. Walter Reade himself would operate the theatre for decades using several corporate entities, including Walter Reade's Theatre, Inc., Perthbank Realty, Inc., which acquired the building in 1951, and Carlton Operating Co., which acquired Perthbank Realty in 1970.

The theatre would operate through the golden age of radio and television, and through the rise and fall of drive-ins, until finally the dawn of shopping mall culture and multiplex cinemas would draw enough people out of downtown that the building was no longer profitable, and it went dark in 1970.

In 1973, as the result of a significant anonymous donation, the Monmouth County Arts Council was able to acquire the building and preserve the now historic theatre for cultural uses. It was renamed the Monmouth Arts Center. On December 28, 1973, the building was purchased for $96,665; several hundred thousand dollars less than it cost to construct 47 years earlier. Included in the purchase were the storefront leases of the Greater Red Bank Area Jaycees, the Outreach Center and the Monmouth County Unit of the New Jersey Association for Retarded Children; an automatic ticket machine; a steel rod ticket box; a set of plastic marquee letters; two projectors with Motio-Grapher bases and Simplex-Sound Heads; assorted lenses; a Strong Trouper follow spot; assorted lighting and sound gear; a baby grand piano; and drapes and drops including the original Act Curtain.

Today, much remains the same about the building. Despite the Red Bank Register's 1926 report that the theatre's original name would be effaced from the façade, the word "State" and the initials "ST" for "State Theatre" are still visible on the peak of the building's façade. The old storefronts still flank the lobby entrance, and the magnificent dome still dominates the theatre's expansive ceiling. The original Act Curtain is still in use. Stage scenery is still loaded in via a ten foot wide strip of land off of Pearl Street, a tribute to the ingenuity and perseverance of the theatre's current stage crew when one considers that vaudeville performances generally relied upon backdrops, and modern scenery, staging and sound gear are now delivered in a tractor trailer or two.

Yet much is different. No longer a commercial concern for the benefit of a private partnership, the Count Basie Theatre is now owned and operated by the Count Basie Theatre, Inc., a nonprofit corporation formed solely to operate the theatre for the benefit of the community. The Theatre presents "live" music, dance, theatrical performances, and with the restoration of our projections equipment, films are once again being shown.

Enjoy an evening out with family and firends.There is something for everyone to enjoy this spring.

3-30 Monmouth Symphony

4-9 Joe Jackson

4-16 Asia

4-18 Pat Benatar

4-26 Pat Cooper "An evening of laughs"

5-17 Led Zeppelin

5-18 Beethoven Beethoven

Comments (1)

IMNJ - Internet Marketing Specialist
Internet Marketing NJ - Red Bank, NJ

Dawn - this was a great post. I have spent many evenings at the theater over the years. It really is a important aspect of our community as well as a Red Bank landmark.



Jun 03, 2008 02:54 AM