Summit Playhouse 2

The Summit Playhouse!

I gave a brief history of the Summit Playhouse nearly two years ago, and I mentioned its role in Summit’s Library shortly thereafter… but now, as part of Union County’s Four Centuries weekend, I’ve been given an enthusiastic tour of the interior by John Bauer (who, with his sister Nancy Boucher, is integral to the restoration and upkeep of the historical aspects of the playhouse).

Do I have a lot to add to the original writeups? Well, no, not really. But what the heck, I’m excited.

Here’s a timeline for ya:

  • 1874: Summit Library Association formed. Books were kept in the back of a store, in a private home, and in a school. Classy.
  • 1889: George Manley (a big historical name around here, pronounced “manly”) offered the library association a funny little triangular plot of land…George Manley's land contribution to the Summit Library

    …if they could raise the funds to build a building on it.

    They raised $3,720, which was enough for Mr. Manley!

    The proposed building was designed by Arthur Jennings in the Richardsonian Romanesque style.

  • 1891: The first Summit Library building opens, but it’s corporate-owned: neither free nor public.The Summit Playhouse... as the Summit Library.
  • 1901: After nearly a decade of mamby-pamby discussion, the corporate stockholders gave the library to Summit, and the city put $150/year in public funds towards supporting it as a public library.
  • 1911: The new Carnegie Library was opened a few blocks away, rendering the tiny old library obsolete.
  • 1918: After seven years of vacancy, the Summit Dramatic Club leased the old library from the library association for $1/year. (Yes, ten dimes, I didn’t leave off a zero.)Summit Playhouse... as a playhouse. And with real stairs.

    (Note the original stone steps. I don’t know when that changed, but there is talk of replacing the playhouse’s current tacky wooden stairs with something more architecturally appropriate.)

    The playhouse association blacked out most of the building’s windows with brick and concrete, to prevent light leakage during performances; many of those original blackouts remain today (and some were just added within the past few years).

  • 1960: The Marjorie Jefferson Auditorium addition was built, which tripled the size of the stage (and gave the building all kinds of weird leaks forever after).Blue = now; red = before. See how much bigger the stage is now?
  • 1961: Joan Rosé Thomas painted murals in the back of the auditorium.Summit Playhouse auditorium (1960), and murals by Joan Rosé Thomas (1961)

    (When Mr. Bauer gave me a tour of the playhouse, he emphasized— repeatedly— that “Joan Rosé Thomas” was not “Joan Rose Thomas”; there is an accent aigu over the E. And now you know.)

  • 1967: After 49 years of accepting $1/year from the playhouse association, the library association rolled its eyes and said, “this is ridiculous. Take the darn place, it’s yours, have fun.”(Actually, Roig 2005 says this happened in 1938; the 1967 story comes from Hageman 2004. I don’t know who’s right.)
  • 2005: An elevator and restroom were installed for accessibility.

And THAT is pretty much all I know about the Summit Playhouse’s history.

 

References:

Hageman, Robert A. (2004). “Summit Playhouse: A cultural heritage.” The Summit Historical Society. http://www.summitnjhistory.org/Historian_Playhouse.php.

Meola, P.E. (1998). Images of America: Summit. Arcadia Publishing: Charleston, SC. ISBN 0738563307.

Roig, Magaly. (2005). “Playhouse puts accessibility first.” Cultural Access News. pp. 6-7. http://culturalaccessnetwork.org/cultural_access_news/spring_2005/playhouse_puts_accessibility_first_4.html.

Union County Office of Cultural and Heritage Affairs. (2012). “21. Summit Playhouse, 10 New England Avenue.” Four Centuries in a Weekend: Historic Sites Tour. p. 36. [pamphlet.] http://ucnj.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/2012-Four-centuries-Online-Book-complete.pdf.

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