State Theatre New Jersey


The 1920s—A Time for New Beginnings

The year 1921 was a time for new beginnings. The United States was just coming out of World War I and was starting to acclimate back to peacetime. At the beginning of the 1920s, a lot of the defining pop culture icons of the decade, such as jazz clubs and flapper girls, were only starting to take shape, so they weren't in the mainstream just yet. However, the underlying features of classic 1920’s fashion were already recognizable. What's more, silent films were already very popular, making it a very good time for theaters like Reade's State Theatre to be in business. 

The general attitude of the population during 1921 could be described in one word: freedom. The world had just emerged from the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic two years prior, and people were enjoying their regained freedom to explore and socialize. One of the ways this manifested was through women’s fashion. Comfort and freedom of movement defined the style of the time. Dresses, blouses, and skirts were very loose-fitting to be comfortable for the wearer, and because they didn’t use a lot of fabric and had simple sewing patterns, they were easy to make at home. Popular fabrics consisted of cotton, silk, and wool, hemlines fell at mid-calf, and embroidery was a popular method of adding detail to garments. All of this resulted in trends that focused on comfort and freedom.

The emphasis on freedom could also be seen with the rising number of cars on the road. The first ever automobiles came into the mainstream during this time, as they were seen as a pathway to individual independence. Cars could take a person anywhere they wanted, and one of the most popular places to drive to was to the movie theater.

Silent films were already part of the mainstream by 1921 and were a huge part of pop culture during that time. There are many misconceptions about silent films; most people today think that silent films were all in black-and-white and completely silent. This is not at all the case. In fact, about 80% of silent films made during this period were in color, either having been colored by hand or by processes such as Kinemacolor and Technicolor. In addition, movie theaters in the 1920s had live musicians who provided accompaniment using cue sheets provided along with the film. The size of the band varied based on the size and budget of the theater. Small theaters usually had a single pianist, while bigger-budget theaters could afford full ensembles. Some theaters even had huge organs that could not only play scores, but also add sound effects such as horses galloping or boat horns honking. The State Theatre had one of the largest theater organs in the country at that time. Made in Maryland by the Möller company, the organ had 10,000 pipes, ranging from one-half inch to 12 feet. 

The changes that peacetime brought about as well as the end to a long mass quarantine (sound familiar?) resulted in a public that was ready to get back out into the world and enjoy the marvels of new technology, making theaters a popular destination for many. This led to the perfect conditions for Reade's State Theatre to open in 1921 with a warm reception. And the rest, as they say, is history.

By  Shoshana Fishman

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