Recalling the Third Ward's Three Movie Houses, and Its Live Yiddish Theatre

by Nat Bodian


Newark's old Third Ward, in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s had few automobile owners and its residents favored places of amusement in the neighborhood that could easily be reached by foot.

For we neighborhood kids, the movie houses were the center of our world.

I recall attending all three Third Ward movie houses -- the National on Belmont Avenue, just off Spruce Street, and on Springfield Avenue between High and West Streets, the Savoy on one side at number 101 and directly opposite it the Essex, at number 100.

I never attended the Essex, but went once when it was still the Hill Theatre1 and carried vaudeville along with its movies. The Savoy was a weekly habit prior to my tenth year with money earned selling Star Eagles2 on Market Street after school.

But unique among the Third Ward theatres was Elvings Metropolitan Theatre at No. 117 Montgomery Street, corner of Charlton3 and just one block up from Prince Street. It was the home of Yiddish plays and operettas.

It opened in 1922 and continued in operation until 1944, providing Newark's numerous Yiddish-speaking immigrants who had settled in and around the Third Ward with a place to relax, to forget the cares of their daily struggle for survival, and to laugh and cry at the stories of Jewish families like themselves, adapting to life in America.

The Yiddish theatre had been built by the Elving family, Jewish actors, and the plays staged there were mostly written by Bernard and Rose Elving.

Among the performers who had appeared on the Elvings stage and went on to stardom were Menashe Skulnik and Moishe Oysher.

I recall being taken to Elvings just once in my younger years, although I grew up just a few blocks down at No. 29 Montgomery Street.

Although I was under ten when I saw my Elvings show, I still recall the closing line as the final curtain came down.

An aged Jewish father is on his deathbed and his son is kneeling at his bedside. The father, with his dying breath is saying to his son; "Yankele, zey a Yid....Yankele, zey a Yid."4 He then expires.

As I remember it, I had never seen so many crying adults.


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