Opened on November 25, 1915, Proctor’s Palace Theatre in downtown Newark was one of the rare “double decker” theatres. The theater was designed by architect John W. Merrow was originally used for smaller vaudeville productions before switching over to film at around the same time as its downstairs counterpart.
The Proctor’s Theatre Newark building consisted of two theatres in one. The ground floor theatre housed a 2,800 seating area with additional seating on an “orchestra formation” and two balcony levels. The smaller theatre located directly above this was called the “Roof Garden”. The Roof Garden consisted of 1,400 seats on an orchestra formation.
Frederick Proctor, a former acrobat, was both the owner and the builder of the theater. He entrusted the development of the design to his nephew, an architect named John W. Merrow. The 10-story high facade of the fairly narrow building contained only the 40-foot high lobby of the larger theatre, which had its auditorium behind it, and offices above. A series of murals in the lobbies were by painter William de Leftwich Dodge.
After 1926, the theater started to offer movie screenings as well as vaudeville plays.
A projection booth was installed at the rear of the second balcony, and by 1929, the theater showed only movies. On May 14, 1929, in poor health, F.F. Proctor sold his company to the Radio-Keith-Orpheum Corporation (RKO), which included the venue in Newark, four in New York City, and six in New York state. Upon the purchase, the Newark venue were renamed to RKO Proctor’s Theatre.
By 1931, the lower theatre’s seating capacity had been reduced to 2,309 as a result of declining demand and the generally poor visibility of movies from the upper tiers. In 1953, the Proctor’s theater Newark was updated with new technological equipment. It housed a Miracle Mirror Screen, which showed not only a widescreen viewing but also offered 3-D viewings. A Stereophonic Sound System was installed, and the lobby was also modernized.
The Proctor’s upper theatre was apparently seldom used until the summer of 1961, when it was renovated and rebranded as the Penthouse Cinema for the presentation of foreign films as the Penthouse Cinema, opening with Ingmar Bergman’s “Secrets of Women” (Though a Glass Darkly).
Unfortunately, The Penthouse Cinema wasn’t active for long.In the 1960s, the US experienced a general economic downturn. Unemployment affected the city of Newark as well as racial tension due to unequal civil rights. This led to significant unrest for some time. The Cinema closed in 1968 after the infamous Newark riots damaged the reputation of the once-respected city.
In 1968, RKO merged with Stanley-Warner. Stanley-Warner owned the Branford Theater, which was also located in Newark and much more profitable than Proctor’s Theater. Afterward, Proctor’s Theatre was reused temporarily by the Essex County College while its new $30 million campus was being constructed. Over the next few decades, the premises began to collapse into ruins. The decorative ornamentation of the ceiling has been lost as the ceilings have collapsed.