03/2019: The Borough of Metuchen signed a contract to purchase the Forum Theatre and plans to incorporate a rehabilitated theater into a new Metuchen Arts District that will include a restaurant and other spaces to enjoy the arts.
The Forum Theatre on Main Street in Metuchen opened in March 1928, at the end of the era of silent movies and the beginning of the Golden Age of Hollywood cinema. The building was constructed by local businessmen, James Forgione and H.A. Rumler, who named the theatre by combining the first three letters of their last names.
The building is constructed in a simplified Colonial Revival style. It is two stories tall, of dark reddish brick, and is articulated by flat pilasters at the corners and at each side of the marquee. The marquee appears to be original except that it is missing many of the lights along its perimeter. The front façade retains a high level of architectural and historical integrity. The interior was designed in the Art Moderne style with sleek, curved surfaces and high-quality leather seats. In a 1990 inventory of historic sites, the Forum Theatre was listed as a contributing building to the historic downtown of Metuchen, and it is likely eligible for the New Jersey and National Registers of Historic Places.
The theatre was in constant use well into the 1980s showing first-run movies. In more recent years, several factors have combined to make the operation of the theatre more challenging: the HVAC infrastructure is beyond its lifespan and subject to constant breakdowns; because of the changing technology of movie projection, the Forum’s equipment would require very costly upgrades in order to continue to show first-run movies; and the theatre faces severe competition from surrounding mass market cinemas. In spite of these challenges, the Forum has continued to operate, but it is increasingly less active. It has been placed on the market for sale, and there is local concern that if the building is sold, it will be replaced with housing and/or commercial development.
Many historic movie and vaudeville theatres in New Jersey face similar circumstances. The Washington Theatre in Washington Borough, Warren County, has struggled over the last two decades, has fallen into disrepair, and is for sale. The Loew’s Jersey in Jersey City has made significant progress in repairing and restoring its infrastructure and Baroque ornament, but it still faces significant financial challenges in completing the needed work and becoming a regional performing arts center. The Rivoli Theatre in Rutherford is another urban facility that is in need of HVAC and electrical system work and a viable program of use to ensure its preservation.
New Jersey’s historic theatres are a great resource to the cultural life of the regions in which they are located. Studies and projects, such as the Cleveland Playhouse in Ohio, have shown that the rehabilitation of theatres often becomes the financial engine for the improvement of entire urban areas. We encourage the community and the local government of Metuchen to work together to identify the Forum Theatre as an asset that should not be lost and take steps to secure its future and encourage its preservation.
Preservation New Jersey