Montclair 150: Another Saturday night in Montclair
By GWEN OREL
Since its founding in 1868, Montclair has always been interested in entertainment. What to do on a Saturday night has changed over the years, but perhaps not as much as you might think. In fact, some of the buildings and institutions townspeople enjoy today have been around a long time. Some, like the Wellmont Theater, have been repurposed. The Bellevue Theater, at the time of this writing, is about to be repurposed too. Today, Montclair is home to a film festival and literary festival, an orchestra, an art museum, and much more. This is a round-up of some of Montclair’s greatest hits over the past 150 years. What do you love to do on a Saturday night? Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know!
AT HOME AND MORE IN THE 19TH CENTURY
In the 1880s, a lot of entertainment took place in the home, even on a Saturday. Parlor entertainment included games of whist, amateur musicals, dinner parties and charades, and people loved to gather around the piano. But, as they do today, cultural events took place in houses of worship. In the First Presbyterian Church chapel, built in 1883, which used to be on Church Street, concerts and lectures were held. Also, as today, performances were also held at the Montclair Public Library, founded in 1893. Clubs sprang up and included the Montclair Lawn Tennis Club (1885), an Equestrian Club (1876), a walking club (1879), the Ladies Vocal Club and an archery club. Picnics, sleighing and sledding were all popular as Montclair was still very rural. A roller skating rink opened in 1885.
SEE WHAT'S ON AT THE MONTCLAIR CLUB
In the 1880s, 1890s and 1900s, people often stopped into The Montclair Club on Saturday night. The Montclair Club was organized on Oct. 15, 1887. It was only for men, but families could use it on Mondays. The Love property on Church Street was purchased for the club, and the clubhouse was built in 1888. The club hall was used for community theater productions, lectures, and musical events sponsored by the club or outside organizations.
The Montclair Club held art exhibits featuring artists from the Montclair Art Colony. Many of the clubs that became popular in Montclair were formed by members of the Montclair Club, including the Montclair Athletic Club and the Montclair Dramatic Club. The club disbanded in 1924, and the building was razed.
HAVE A BEER
Montclairites have been able to buy a beer at Tierney’s Tavern since 1934. Tierney’s has the only liquor license to stay in one family since it was issued; the bar was built right after Prohibition ended in 1933. Before prohibition ended, Tierney’s operated in the basement of a candy shop owned by the family across the street. Tierney’s also has one of the town’s oldest stages. While Saturday nights range from cover bands, to blues, disco, country, and rock, the owners have formed a soft spot for bands emulating the eclectic and easy listening influences of the Grateful Dead, a preference made clear when you hear 30-year venue veterans The Fabulous Flemtones. On any given day, not just Saturday, you can find a Tierney in the kitchen or at the bar. For the past five years, Tierney’s Tavern has held a free all-day music festival the weekend after Memorial Day. Other places to have a glass of wine on a Saturday (or other days) include Egan & Sons, The Office, Pig & Prince, Just Jake’s, Trumpets Jazz Club and Restaurant, and DLV Lounge.
LOOK AT ART
The Montclair Art Museum opened its doors in 1914 as an outgrowth of the Montclair Art Colony, which included such artists as Harry Fenn, Frederick Waugh and William Cooper, and The Montclair Art Association, founded in 1910, which included a generous gift of 36 paintings from William Evans, matched by a $50,000 donation from Florence Rand Lang. MAM’s initial purchases of historic and contemporary American art established an acquisition process that continues to this day. The museum was one of the country’s first museums primarily engaged in collecting American art (including the work of contemporary, nonacademic artists) and among the first dedicated to the study and creation of a significant Native American art collection. An art school opened in 1924, just 10 years after the museum opened. Margaret Tyler Yard also founded an art school in 1927. Yard was a leading figure in teaching art to the handicapped. The schools merged in 1999, and now the Yard School of Art is at MAM. MAM is the New Jersey affiliate of the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. Since 2012, on the first Thursday of every month from September to June, MAM opens its doors for free from 5 to 9 p.m. Guided tours of the exhibitions are available, and there is live music.
Studio Montclair Inc. is a member-driven organization founded in 1996 when five Montclair artists felt the need to mount an exhibit echoing the famous Salon des Refusés in Paris of 1863. The focus of the organizers was to showcase the work of local artists who were not included in the Montclair Art Museum’s February 1997 exhibit, “The Montclair Art Colony Past and Present.” The group incorporated in 1997. Today, they have more than 400 members worldwide. In 2017, Studio Montclair, which had exhibited in different spaces around town, opened its own gallery space at 127 Bloomfield Ave. Other opportunities to see art include the biannual Art Walks, produced by the Montclair Business Improvement District, in which stores downtown display art; exhibitions at the Montclair Public Library, and in such galleries as 73 See Gallery at 73-C Pine St.
CATCH A CONCERT
Listening to music is always a welcome pastime for any Saturday. Unity Institute was founded by Dr. Edgar S. Wiers, minister of Unity Church (Unitarian Church of Montclair) in 1920 to provide cultural programs to Montclair, and was operated by the church until January 1982. The first program of the Institute was the Unity Concert Course, which brought in top classical music performers beginning in October 1920. Unity Concerts then became Unity Concerts of New Jersey. The Unity Travel Course, featuring illustrated travel lectures and films, was begun in 1923. The Chamber Music series began in 1939. Singers from the Metropolitan Opera company often performed including fiddle virtuoso Isaac Stern who performed in 1992. Unity Concerts continued until 2000.
Outpost in the Burbs was founded as a “coffeehouse,” a term from the 1960s and ’70s when where people passed the hat for donations for performers, and drew people in. Originally, Outpost was a ministry of First Congregational Church, organized by a group of young people who met at FCC, to inspire more of their peers to gather. The organization typically hosts acoustic musicians, with favorites from past eras, such as Roger McGuinn and Judy Collins, and up-and-coming singer-songwriters such as Valerie June and Anais Mitchell. Community service is part of the Outpost’s mission. It works with Habitat for Humanity, Community Foodbank of New Jersey, Soup Kitchen Workdays and the Human Needs Food Pantry. The name “Outpost” was selected because it suggests a place that offers hospitality to those exploring the frontiers of their own lives and of society. In 2001, Outpost broke its official ties with FCC to become a not-for-profit entity. Its concerts typically take place on Friday or Saturday nights.
The Wellmont Theater presents live music, as do several bars in town, including Ruthie’s Bar-B-Q, Tierney’s Tavern, Just Jake’s and DLV Lounge.
GO TO A MOVIE
Going to a movie on a Saturday is always a good thing to do. The Montclair Theater, a vaudeville and silent movie house opened in 1913. The Wellmont, the Bellevue and the Clairidge all opened in 1922.
Thomas Edison watched movies at the Wellmont, and screenings were accompanied by a pianist who played the theater’s Wurlitzer pipe organ. The name is a combination of the theater manager, H.H. Wellenbrick, and the town of Montclair. The “talkies” grew so popular that The Wellmont added sound sync equipment in 1929. In “Cheaper by the Dozen,” Frank Gilbreth Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey recall going to a movie at the Wellmont with his father and siblings when he was growing up from the turn of the century in Montclair through his father’s death in 1924.
“Cheaper by the Dozen” is the Montclair Public Library’s first community read. The library presented Frank Gilbreth Jr.’s son Peter this past May, and screenings of the movies based on the novel.
Today’s Montclairites can catch concerts, key films and events from the Montclair Film Festival at the Wellmont.
The Bellevue opened with D.W. Griffith’s “Orphans of the Storm,” starring Lillian Gish. The theater, with its distinctive Tudor-style exposed beams and slate roof, even an indoor balcony and a second-floor tea room, was the object of attention among architectural experts of the day, according to local historian Lisanne Renner. The theater was built by Robert Anderson, whose family had donated the land for nearby Anderson Park. The theater closed in November 2017 after a final showing of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” which had been a staple at the theater presented by Home of Happiness, since 2003. Residents Luke Parker Bowles, Vincent Onorati and Patrick Wilson are in talks with owner Jesse Sayegh to reopen the venue with a bar and restaurant.
The Montclair Film Festival (MFF) debuted in 2012, and has grown steadily. Its 2018 festival ran for 11 days, attracting 26,000 people, and presented the innovative performer Taylor Mac. In 2017, MFF renamed itself Montclair Film, and also opened their own space, Cinema505, at 505 Bloomfield Ave. TV host and comedian Stephen Colbert, a Montclair resident, is on its board. In addition to the yearly festival in May, which presents movies, talks and events, Montclair Film holds classes and screenings and a new “StorySLAM” during the year.
SEE LIVE THEATER
Montclairites always loved their live performances, from charades in parlors to the forming of local groups. The Montclair Dramatic Club, founded in 1889 in the home of W.L. Guillaudeu, presented “Randall’s Thumb” by W.S. Gilbert as its first production in the new Montclair Town Club that year. Another Saturday night at the theater! The amateur group performed two plays per year, and disbanded in the late 1980s or early 1990s. Studio Players was founded in 1937 as an outgrowth of the Montclair Dramatic Club, according to The Glen Ridge Paper. The younger members of Studio Players wanted to try more experimental theater. The company continues to this day, presenting a full season of contemporary comedies and drama and children’s plays in its home at 14 Alvin Place, formerly a laundry, where they have been located since 1942. In 1973, Studio Players began work on an addition to the original building.
And there is continuity: the current space includes a raised stage and an auditorium of 140 seats. The auditorium is named for Mary Yinger, a woman who bequeathed money to the Montclair Dramatic Club.
Essex Youth Theatre, a theater arts school, is in residence in the lower level of the building.
Those willing to travel to a neighboring town could visit Nutley Little Theatre, founded in 1934, by a group of men connected with the Grace Episcopal Church. The group performed in the different Nutley schools, rehearsing in The Barn on Erie Place. It began holding performances as benefits for the American Red Cross and hospitals in the 1940s. In 1976, the group converted the barn to a performance space. Many Montclair actors perform in the long-standing community theater, which presents mostly contemporary work.
Olympia Dukakis and her husband, the late Louis Zorich, and 10 other couples founded the
For a while, the Whole Theater Company in 1971, a professional, Equity company presenting contemporary drama and comedy, drew critics and patrons from all over the Tri-State area, on Saturday and on other days too. Its first production was Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town,” performed in the basement of the First Baptist Church. Whole Theater Company purchased their theater, a converted bank, in 1976. Olympia Dukakis’ Academy Award for her role in the movie “Moonstruck” gave the company added cachet. Unfortunately, due to financial troubles, the company closed in 1990.
While Whole Theater no longer exists, Montclairites can still see theater at Luna Stage, founded by Jane Mandel and Frankie Faison. It moved to West Orange in 2009, where it presents contemporary drama and new musicals, including world premieres.
Peak Performances, located on the campus of Montclair State University, was founded in 2005 with the mission of bringing internationally acclaimed artists and productions to the state-of-the-art Alexander Kasser Theater, built in 2004. Since then, it has presented such artists as South African director Robyn Orlin, British choreographer Wayne McGregor, and American geniuses jazz composer Fred Hersch, choreographer Bill T. Jones, and environmental theater pioneer Richard Schechner, among others. Peak Performances also partners with MSU’s College of the Arts’ Department of Theatre and Dance and the John J. Cali School of Music to present concerts and shows in the 500-seat house.
SEE A MUSICAL OR OPERA
Montclair Operetta Club was founded in 1925 with the mission to perform the operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan; the club’s first production was “The Pirates of Penzance.” The Club has always been run by amateurs. Like many other arts organizations in town, it grew out of like-minded members of a church: in this case some members at Union Congregational Church wanted to perform “Pirates.” The show was well received, and the club continued to perform Gilbert and Sullivan until 1929, when it expanded its repertoire to include contemporary musicals. In 1936, the club hired its first professional performer, and in 1953, it presented its first Broadway musical, “Brigadoon.” Although the club is run by amateurs, it does hire professional directors, choreographers, musical directors and designers.
It has rehearsed and built scenery at its space at 494 Valley Road since 1950. From 1930 to spring 2003, the club performed at Mount Hebron School (now Buzz Aldrin Middle School). For the next four seasons it performed at Memorial Auditorium on the campus of MSU. Since 2007, the club has been resident at Westminster Arts Center in Bloomfield.
Opera Theatre of Montclair was founded in 2013 by Mia Riker-Norrie, a Montclair resident. At first, the company performed fundraising concerts, and performed on Church Street on Saturdays in the summer during the Montclair Business Improvement District’s Center Stage. It presented its first full production in 2015, with a production of “Nabucco,” by Giuseppe Verdi, in the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Montclair. Beginning in March 2014, the company began touring an abridged version of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” as part of its education initiative to schools, libraries, churches and senior centers. It also performs previews and family-friendly productions outside at Van Vleck House & Gardens. To date, it has presented four full productions of operas in different spaces. Its 2017 production of “La Cenerentola (Cinderella)” by Rossini was presented at the United Way building on South Fullerton Avenue.
HEAR CLASSICAL MUSIC OR JAZZ
The New Jersey Symphony Orchestra grew out of organizations based in Montclair. The Llewellyn Ensemble formed in 1916, performing concerts at the home of William Dickson on Llewellyn Road. In 1920, a group of musicians from St. Luke’s Episcopal Church formed the Montclair Orchestra. In 1922, the groups merged to perform a concert at the Montclair Art Museum, and eventually became the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, now based in Newark.
In 2017, a new Montclair Orchestra was born, offering Montclairites another way to spend a Saturday night. Founded by local resident André Weker, with conductor David Chan, who is also the concertmaster of the Metropolitan Opera orchestra. The Montclair Orchestra is a mix of professionals from such orchestras including the NJSO and the New York Philharmonic, highly qualified amateurs, and students from The Juilliard School, the John J. Cali School of Music, Mannes School of Music, Manhattan School of Music, and Mason-Gross School for the Arts. The orchestra completed its first season in 2018, performing five concerts in different venues around Montclair, including MSU, St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Church.
For jazz, Montclair has several options, all great ways to spend a Saturday night. Trumpets Jazz Club and Restaurant was founded in 1985, and shows jazz nightly. Jazz and R&B can be heard at the DLV lounge on Bloomfield Avenue. Drummer and jazz musician Bruce Tyler ran the Montclair Jazz and Blues Festival from 1986 to 2000.
Jazz House Kids was founded by singer Melissa Walker and her husband, bass player and Grammy award-winner Christian McBride, in 2002 to offer educational and cultural programs for children. JHK offers classes year round, including some classes for adults. Its faculty is made up of professional musicians, who also perform with JHK in underserved New Jersey schools, offering free programming and mentorship. Student ensembles include the Jazz House Big Band, a pre-professional group that has sent members to study music at such schools as The Juilliard School, Northwestern University, Manhattan School of Music, and Oberlin College.
In August 2010 Jazz House Kids presented the first free Montclair Jazz Festival in Nishuane Park. That semi-private festival presented JHK faculty who had been teaching in the summer program, with a makeshift stage. Since then the Jazz Festival, always on a Saturday, has grown to be a significant event that attracts visitors from all over. The eighth annual festival in 2017 brought about 12,000 people, the largest crowd ever, to Nishuane Park to see headliners and student bands perform on two stages for nine hours. Performers included Dee Dee Bridgewater, Louis Prima Jr., Cyrus Chestnut, student bands and others. The 2018 Montclair Jazz Festival will take place on Saturday, Aug. 11.
IN THIS ARTICLE
While some of the entertainment venues are no more, some still exist: here’s the list:
• Montclair Literary Festival, succeed2gether.org/montclair-literary-festival
• Tierney’s Tavern, 136-138 Valley Road, tierneystavern.com
• Egan & Sons, 118 Walnut St., eganandsons.com
• The Office, 619 Bloomfield Ave.
• Just Jake’s, 30 Park St., justjakes.com
• Trumpets Jazz Club and Restaurant, 6 Depot Square, trumpetsjazz.com
• DLV Lounge, 300 Bloomfield Ave., Facebook.com/thed-l-v-lounge
• Montclair Art Museum, 3 South Mountain Ave., montclairartmuseum.org
• Studio Montclair Inc., 137 Bloomfield Ave., studiomontclair.org
• 73 See Gallery, 73 C Pine St., 73seegallery.com
• Outpost in the Burbs, 40 South Fullerton Ave., outpostintheburbs.org
• Ruthie’s Bar-B-Q, 64 Chestnut St., ruthiesbbq.com
• The Wellmont Theater, 5 Seymour St., wellmonttheater.com
• The Clairidge Cinema, 486 Bloomfield Ave., bowtiecinemas.com
• Montclair Film, 505 Bloomfield Ave., montclairfilm.org
• Studio Players, 14 Alvin Place, studioplayhouse.org
• Essex Youth Theater, 14 Alvin Place, essexyouththeater.com
• Nutley Little Theatre, 47 Erie Place, Nutley, nutleylittletheatre.com
• Luna Stage, 555 Valley Road, West Orange, lunastage.org
• Peak Performances, 1 Normal Ave. (on campus of MSU), peakperfs.org
• Montclair Operetta Club, 494 Valley Road, mocmusicals.org
• Opera Theatre of Montclair, operamontclair.org
• Montclair Orchestra, montclairorchestra.org
• Jazz House Kids, 347 Bloomfield Ave., jazzhousekids.org
Sources: Jazzhousekids.org; “Abrupt Closing of a Leading Theater Is Jolt to Arts Groups,” The New York Times, May 27, 1990; Montclairfilm.org; Montclairorchestra.org; Nutley Little Theatre; “Montclair’s Studio Players Makes Community with Theater,” The Montclair Times, June 6, 2013; Operamontclair.org; Outpostintheburbs.org; Peakperfs.org; Schmidt, Carl; Shepard, Elizabeth; and Farrelly, Mike, “Legendary Locals of Montclair.” Arcadia: 2013; The Montclair Times, Nov. 23, 1929; Tierney, Dan; Urbanelli, Lora; Wellmonttheater.com.