Wednesday, January 23, 2008

New Life for Symphony Hall

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


nsh executive said...

Carl, your essay is on the money Brother. Thank you for your accurate description of the challenge that we have taken up to bring The Hall back to prominence. You are certain to motivate some folks to join us in this effort. Keep the faith.... Philip.

L. Craig Schoonmaker said...

Supporting the restoration of Symphony Hall is too vague. You need to post links to organizations working toward that end. If the Hall is underattended, why is that? Does it offer things today's Newarkers are just not interested in? If so, they may need new management and booking agents. Does Symphony Hall's own management have plans for renovation? a renovation fund? Can people contribute to such a fund thru a Symphony Hall website? another website? Ideally, if you want people to help, you should suggest specific WAYS to help. (You should also provide an email address in your profile or somewhere beneath your foto in the blog's template.) I will mention this in my own blog, "Newark USA" (, but if you already know who is doing what, you can save me a lot of research, and move up when links to renovation efforts can appear on my blog, by adding this info to your blog or sending me such info at Cheers. said...

You’re right Craig. I am kind of vague at this point. The point of my piece is to get people thinking about Symphony Hall and making inquiry as you obviously have. We still have a number of critical steps to take before we are actually in restoration mode.

I am a new member of the Newark Symphony Hall Board, which also has a new Executive Director. The current Board is being reconstituted as we blog and tours of the facility are being conducted for interested parties as we discuss our plans for the future. Let me try to respond to your questions. The Hall has been under attended because until very recently it had not been anyone’s priority. Once NJPAC was developed all major activity (NJ Symphony Orchestra, Ballet and Opera) left the Hall. With their departure, a good deal of interest in and support for the Hall was lost. Indeed, years before when it became clear that NJPAC was going to be a reality, attention to the maintenance of the Hall began to wane.

The Hall does offer things that interest today’s Newarkers. They constitute a large part of the audience that patronizes events at the Hall. But you must keep in mind that the Hall is really a facility for regional use. Many of the Hall’s patrons hail from Newark’s rim towns and cities. There is considerable room for improvement in the programming at the Hall and that is being discussed and will be addressed by the new Board and management team. This will clearly take some time but it is underway. The operating budget of the Hall has for years been a bare maintenance deficit budget. We are only now talking about constructing a budget that reflects the real operating and programming needs of the Hall. We are preparing for the implementation of responsible management strategies.

There are no plans for a renovation yet. Our initial step is to generate interest in the idea. And we are happy to report that people are showing great interest. We will have to develop a revitalization plan and create a Foundation to prudently handle fundraising for the effort.
The website does not presently meet all our needs and will be refurbished to include all appropriate functionality consistent with the needs of the Hall, the public and interested parties. Donations cannot be made through the Hall’s website or any other website at this time.

For now all interested parties are invited to contact Newark Symphony Hall at 1020 Broad Street, Newark, NJ 07102 to assist through our “Friends” organization. As Hall revitalization and other initiatives come on line, information about how the public can support will be made available. For now we want you and others to come to the Hall, join the friends organization and continuing advancing your ideas for how we can improve who we are and what we offer. We want and need your help.

We will keep you abreast of all our development efforts, particularly the revitalization.
Thank you very much for your response.

Anonymous said...

Nimah Ismail
In the article named, “Downtown Newark” by Carl Sharif he explains that downtown Newark is going threw some changes that most people barely knows about. The whole reason for this makeover is because New Yorkers think that New York apartments are to expensive so they say why not go to Newark which is only 30 minutes away to build cheaper apartments. But the native Newarkers can’t really afford these new apartments and will start getting pushed out of Newark. In addition the small businesses and venders that were already there are closing and shutting down because everything is so expensive like rent and license for the venders. Then when the big businesses come in they take over and the people that are getting don’t look like us and don’t wish to give back to the community. I don’t like this sound at all. Everywhere in Newark and downtown I see some one building or working on these good looking buildings. And they are knocking down the projects and hood so now people have no where to go. People need to know about this so that we can do something about it. I am glad that I read this article because it really explains every thing that is going on. This is for Carl Sharif and from Northstar we welcome you to speak at our school. You can call us at 973-642-0101 ext. 111.

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