The restoration of the Majestic Theatre by Eric and Paul Silverman of Majestic Urban Renewal, LLC, was recognized with an award from the Jersey City Landmarks Conservancy in 2005.
Designed by architect William H. McElfatrick, known as the "father of the American theater architecture," the Majestic was built by the Klein Amusement Company in 1907 and owned by Frank E. Henderson. The three-story structure, an example of an early twentieth-century theater in the Beaux Art neo-classical style, was part of a complex of five separate buildings.
The theater's exterior was dominated by an electric marquee of metal art and its glass roofing. The box office inside the lobby had oak trim and a wide window. Terrazzo flooring and Italian marble wainscoting decorated the main twenty-five-foot-wide theater lobby. The interior featured French Renaissance decorative arts: a grand eight-foot-wide staircase, neoclassical painted murals on canvas, a domed ceiling with allegorical Greek goddesses, faux marble pillars, crystal chandeliers, two balconies, twelve opera boxes, and a Wurlitzer piano organ. The auditorium had a seating capacity of 2,300 and a 77-foot proscenium stage. The father-and-son artists, Leo Sielke and Leo Sielke, Jr., of New York City, painted The Triumphal Entry on the proscenium arch. An observation balcony was modeled on the Grand Opera House in Paris.
The Majestic was used for light theater until 1917. The first production was a musical comedy entitled "The Mazuma Man." The theater's first feature film was D.W. Griffith's controversial film The Birth of a Nation in 1915, and the first talking film was The Jazz Singer in 1927.
On July 14, 1916, the Majestic Theatre hosted the film The Colored American Winning His Suit for an interracial audience of over 800. The movie related the story of a young African-American attorney. The film was produced by the Frederick Douglass Film Company (incorporated in 1915) that was begun by Dr. George E. Cannon (1869-1925) of Jersey City on Pacific Avenue with the Rev. Dr. W.S. Smith (1871-1943) of the Monumental Baptist Church on Lafayette Street, among Cannon's other associates of the Committee of One Hundred of Hudson County (1913).
Named for the prominent African-American freedman, the Douglass Film Company hoped to counteract the negativity towards Blacks in The Birth of a Nation and the stereotypical image of Black entertainers in comedic roles. The Rev. Smith, a self-taught photographer and an early cinematographer, leased film production and editing equipment from the Centaur Film Company in Bayonne. The Douglass Film Company also produced "The Scapegoat (1917), which also premiered at the Majestic, and "Heroic Negro Soldiers of the World War" (1919).
After Henderson sold the Majestic in 1925, it became part of the vaudeville and burlesque circuit. Among the performers were Mae West, Al Jolson, W.C. Fields, George Burns, Groucho Marx, Fanny Brice, and George M. Cohan. With the theater across the street from City Hall, Mayor Frank Hague, who disapproved of the "immoral shows," affected his censorship of entertainment at the theater. He shut down the production of Laffin Thru and had police arrest Mae West on stage during a performance of her play Sex.
In 1938, United Artists Eastern Theaters, Inc. bought the Majestic for a movie house up to the 1950s. It then became a factory and a warehouse for popcorn between 1965 and 1973. In 1975, the theater was given to the Assembly of Christian Churches to house the Second Bethesda Christian Church but was foreclosed four years later. Stinchcromb and Mickelson purchased the property at auction in 1980. It intended to renovate the theater and build a luxury ten-story condominium tower similar to the Carnegie Hall development. However, as the renovation project was debated, the theater's roof collapsed. The building was demolished in 1995, save the main lobby building, by permission of the New Jersey Historic Preservation Commission.
The renovation of the Majestic Theatre and the four remaining structures of the original complex at 273, 275, 277, and 279 Grove Street was completed in 2004. The lobby of the former theater on Montgomery Street gives access to the six-story, 45-unit Majestic Theatre Condominiums. Retail stores occupy the ground floor. A large "ghost ad" reminiscent of earlier times was painted on the Montgomery Street side of the structure. The Grove Street facade of the former theater building features restored arched windows, plaster ornamentation, a gabled marquee, a decorative double-door entrance, mosaic tile floors, and original iron gates.
Cruz, David. "Her Majesty Preserved?" Jersey Journal 6 June 1999.
Gomez, John. "Long before Spike Lee, Hudson Duo Gave Blacks a Strong Voice in Films." Jersey Journal 23 February 2005.
Gomez, John. "Film Forum: Groundbreaking Jersey City Cinema Company Produced Nation's First African American Movies." Jersey Journal 13 March 2023.
Majestic Theatre Condominiums: http://www.majesticjerseycity.com
"New Majestic Will Open on September 16." Jersey Journal 9 September 1907.
Schenone, Laura. "Theater's Renewal Tied to Condo." New York Times. 23 April 1989.