When you enter the concert hall at Newark Symphony Hall you immediately feel the majesty that surrounds you. You immediately sense the greatness of all those who have adorned the stage. You almost share the delight of the countless audiences that filled the seats and no doubt over and over leapt to their feet with ovations of appreciation and homage. Newark Symphony Hall is the grand old cultural sanctuary of our city. It has been revered forever…but left under attended for way too long.
If you stand in the rear of the hall and are not completely hooked on its audacity, you need only mount the stage and look out into the empty seats. The still quiet splendor takes over your thoughts and the rest is pure delight. It is simply an amazing place.
Why then is this obvious jewel left to languish so thoughtlessly? How can it be that for years few suitors have come to call? What has this magnificent architectural feast ever done but feed us well? Now it is our turn and opportunity to give back to our city and our Hall, which has given so much for so long to so many. The revitalization of Newark Symphony Hall cannot wait any longer. A major sustained effort must get underway at once. And every morsel of available help and good will must be solicited in the cause.
New interest is bubbling about the future of the Hall. It is well positioned as a cultural bookend in the overall revitalization of downtown Newark’s main drag, which is currently underway. The New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) sits at one end of Broad Street. Several blocks away is the Prudential Center (The Rock) and several blocks further south is Symphony Hall. NJPAC and The Rock are relatively new players downtown. Newark Symphony Hall has been a vehicle for cultural expression since 1925. The significance of this venue and its history should be celebrated—not ignored.
What you may not know is that Newark Symphony Hall is much more than the main performance hall. The facility houses four floors of performance related, practice, meeting and office spaces. And for old timers there is still the Terrace Room to bring back memories that we cherish—some secretly. Those old wooden floors where the likes of Tommy Robinson, Alvin Johnson, Sylvester Dobson and Halim Nurullah (Chi Chi), Mannie Baker, John Griggs, Abe Tillman and Morris Donaldson spun and dipped are still there. They defined the Latin dance set on those well-shellacked floors. With the exception of a few boards that wilted under wear and water, we believe that every strip of flooring is exactly the same.
The sponsors of the now historical “Third Ward Reunion” have dutifully watched over the spirit of the old timers for years. Dee Johnson (DJ) and her crew have kept the Terrace Room a fond memory for all of us. And these are only memories of the African American community. As we stand in the Terrance Room thinking about DJ, members of the Latino community are setting up the room for church services that they regularly hold here. Just the other day we met an Italian Newark business executive named August LoBue who told us he had boxed an amateur match at Symphony Hall when he was 17 years old. We can only imagine how many people from how many backgrounds are in some way connected to the Hall.
It is obvious that in the Hall’s heyday it was the reigning stomping ground for Europeans. The space and rafters are well seasoned and flavored by nearly all cultures. If there is a single temple to Newark’s rich multicultural heritage that deserves preservation, it is Newark Symphony Hall. B.B King would most likely agree.
Symphony Hall has hosted nearly every people and every culture over a long period of time. We have all enjoyed the benefits of its existence. Now that it has fallen upon hard times it is appropriate that we step up and provide the support needed to honorably complete the cultural trek down Broad Street. NJPAC, Prudential Center and Symphony Hall—each should have prominence. Each would serve multiple needs and constituencies and each is deserving of maximum support. At the moment Newark Symphony Hall is least favored among these three entities. It is equal in potential and superior in historical stature. It has by virtue of its survival alone earned the right to revival. Indeed, NJPAC and Prudential ought to assist in that revival. But for the legacy of Newark Symphony Hall they might well not have found a climate of acceptance. Newark is a city well steeped in artistic and cultural expression and Symphony Hall sat at the center of that tradition. Symphony Hall had a major role in paving the way for what now exists and what is contemplated.
We are calling on all citizens and people who have experienced great moments at Newark Symphony Hall to join the revitalization effort. Your energy will count for much. The lift is sizable but clearly worth it. It is something we can all do. It is a rare apolitical opportunity in a community that is often pungent with rancid political overtones. Symphony Hall truly belongs to a community that encompasses but extends well beyond the borders of Newark and as such escapes the grips of narrow politics. It is a place where we can all work together for a clearly defined goal that benefits the present and the future. Please help.
Newark Symphony Hall has a history and tradition worthy of honor. The best way to bestow that honor is to restore the Hall. Perhaps even the New Jersey Symphony and Ballet can be coaxed back for special performances. Yes, they can go home again.
January 23, 2008