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Contact: Pam Hersh (609) 258-3018

Aug. 3, 2000

Princeton University to renovate Garden Theatre

Garden closes today

Princeton, N.J. -- The Princeton Garden Theatre will close today for renovation, according to Princeton University, the owner of the property, and Theater Management Corporation, which leases and operates the movie theater.

The renovation will keep the theater dark for approximately 12 to 16 weeks, said Theater Management President Louise Stephens, who hopes to reopen the theater in time for the Thanksgiving/Christmas holiday season. "However, considering the age of the building and the possibility of encountering unanticipated conditions once we begin the work, we can make no guarantees as far as the date when the theater will be back in business," she said.

The theater will undergo structural renovations, such as repairs to the roof and electrical system. In addition, the project will significantly upgrade the movie-going experience by installing new seats, bathrooms and projection equipment.

The renovation will be overseen by two architects and one general contractor: Princeton architect George Fett, who has experience on several local residential, historic and commercial projects; New York City architect Robert Strada, who is internationally renowned for designing interior retail environments; and New York City general contractor Stephen Ventor, who specializes in movie theater construction.

The scope and exact cost of the renovations will be clarified once the work begins, but "we expect to spend in excess of $600,000," said Robert Durkee, vice president for public affairs at Princeton University. "The Garden is an important facility for the University and the broader Princeton community. Louise has done an excellent job in selecting movies and responding to the interests and special requests of students and student organizations, alumni and local residents. But anyone who has sat in the Garden's seats or used its restroom facilities knows that the theater is in need of significant improvement and upgrading. The Garden is not turning into a multi-plex or moving into a mall. Its charm is that it will still be a two-screen, downtown theater -- but now it will be able to offer a degree of comfort that movie-goers have a right to expect."

Princeton Borough Mayor Marvin Reed noted that having a theater downtown is critical to the people who live in Princeton Borough. "The residents and the students need a facility within walking and biking distance from their homes, so they are not trapped in a situation where they have to drive several miles to get to a theater. The theater at that location also makes an important contribution to the after-hours liveliness of the town."

During the past few years, the theater also has played an integral role in community life by hosting fund-raisers, movie premieres, and special programs for community groups such as the Arts Council of Princeton and the Eden Institute, and for University groups such as alumni and student classes.

Theater Management Corporation, which operates neighborhood theaters throughout the northeast, assumed management of the Garden in 1993 after Reed introduced the University to Stephens and her partners in an effort to reopen the Garden. The theater had been dark since October 1992 when United Artists, which had been running the theater since 1988, decided it was no longer financially viable. Although the University and Theater Management have spent nearly $200,000 on the building over the past seven years, "it became clear that we needed to make a more significant investment to keep the movie house running, and that the extent of renovation would require temporarily closing the facility," Durkee said.

The Garden Theatre opened its doors on Sept. 20, 1920 with a showing of "Civilian Clothes," starring Thomas Meighan. The event also featured a live orchestra and palms and ferns arranged on the stage.

The facility originally was built to accommodate the Triangle Club and other live performances. But when Triangle opted for its own theater (McCarter), a leasing group known as the Princeton Theatre Company took over the Garden with the intention of using it as a movie house. In 1975, Sameric Corporation assumed control, turned the facility into a twin theater in 1981, and ran it until 1988. United Artists then operated the facility for four years before Theater Management Corporation took over in 1993.