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  • Writer's pictureThis Is Rutherford

History of the Rivoli Theater

Submitted by Rod Leith

The image (above) of the "New Rivoli Theater" appeared in a May 7, 1921 advertisement on page 8 of the Rutherford Republican and Rutherford American newspapers. It is believed to be the first public illustration of the building, which was completed and opened the following April 19, 1922. Harry K. Hecht was the owner and Abram Peiskel was the architect and builder.

In an editorial statement on the debut of the Rivoli Theater, the Rutherford Republican and Rutherford American newspapers had the following words;

"The advent of this far-reaching enterprise is of paramount importance to the prosperity of our Borough and as such is entitled to the unstinting patronage of our people."

Following a devastating fire in 1977, discussions took place toward a restoration of the old Rivoli to create an arts center for Rutherford. This plan was adopted by the Rutherford Planning Board in September 1979 and construction was underway in 1980 at an estimated cost of $1.25 million to create the William Carlos Williams Center for the Performing Arts.

The key milestone dates for the disposition of the WCW Center are:

In 1987, Bergen County assumed ownership and operation of the center under a lease agreement with a local Board of Trustees.

In 2012 damage from Superstorm Sandy created "safety concerns" leading to a decision to shutter the 642-seat Newman Theater, leaving only the operation of twin cinemas.

In August 2021, Bergen County deeded the WCW Center to the Borough of Rutherford which has recently agreed to private ownership under a designated redeveloper who is committed to restoring the Williams Center.

Some would be interested to know that Rutherford's interest in theater arts dates to 1911 when the Grand Theater operated at the corner of Sylvan Street and Spring Dell. When the Rivoli was opened in 1922, Rose Cavalucci also operated a business at 9 Sylvan known as Rosemarie Dress Shop. Walter Kaptain of Carlstadt operated the Rivoli Confectionery in the late 1920s. William D. Waldron of East Rutherford was the theater manager, assisting George W. Lederer, who had been selected by Harry K. Hecht, the original owner of the Rivoli Theatre.

Harry Hecht was an Austrian-born theater operator who first opened the Palace Theater in 1918 at 212 Market Street, Passaic. After a major fire destroyed it, Hecht hired Abram Preiskel to design the new Palace Theatre which re-opened in December 1922. It was Abram Preikel who designed Rutherford's Rivoli Theatre in 1921 and prepared for its grand opening 100 years ago on April 19, 1922.

Click here to learn about the Centennial Celebration which will be hosted by Native Development on April 23rd, 2022.

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