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Improvements bring historic Rahway showcase up to world class standards

union county performing arts center renovations completed
Union County Freeholder Nancy Ward and Rahway Mayor James Kennedy listen as Freeholder Rick Proctor speaks about the Union County Performing Arts Center in Rahway during a preview ceremony at the newly renovated theater. The Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders announced March 12 that a $6.2 million renovation of the Union County Performing Arts Center has been completed. The historic venue is the cornerstone of the Rahway Arts District and a key to the ongoing $100 million redevelopment of downtown Rahway. (Photo by Jim Lowney/County of Union)

Elizabeth, NJ – The Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders announced that a $6.2 million renovation of the Union County Performing Arts Center has been completed. The historic venue is the cornerstone of the Rahway Arts District and a key to the ongoing $100 million redevelopment of downtown Rahway.

“Thanks to the dedication of Union County residents who worked to preserve the theater, Union County is home to one of the finest remaining vaudeville and movie palaces of the 1920’s,” said Freeholder Nancy Ward. “I am grateful that the Freeholder Board has had the opportunity to support this genuine community treasure.”

Union County purchased the building for $1.3 million in 2006 and began renovations in November that year.

The renovations were needed to bring the facility up to contemporary technical standards and enable a year-round schedule of performances.

“The Union County Performing Arts Center is one of the reasons why Rahway can be optimistic about its future growth, and the new renovations have made it better than ever,” said Rahway Mayor James J. Kennedy.

“With the County’s help, we’ve shown that the arts can spur economic development for the entire community.”

The Union County Performing Arts Center opened in 1928 as the Rahway Theater, just as the golden age of vaudeville was peaking. The 1300-seat venue hosted live performances and movie showings. It boasted an ornate interior in the classic “movie palace” style.

The theater survived a rough period during the Great Depression in the 1930s and thrived well into the 1960s. By the 1970s, it fell into disrepair.

A local nonprofit preservation group, Rahway Landmarks, Inc., obtained title to the property in 1984 and started restoring the interior. Renovation of the façade began in 1996.

The theater is now on the National and State Registers of Historic Places.

“The Performing Arts Center has anchored the Rahway central business district and it has made a major contribution to the economic revitalization of Rahway,” said Freeholder Chairman Angel G. Estrada. “This is a clear demonstration that public support for the arts is a worthwhile civic investment.”

The acquisition and renovation of the theater was one of Freeholder Chairman Estrada’s “Building Better Communities” initiatives during his previous tenure as chair of the Freeholder Board, in 2004.

Key renovations include the extension of the stage to accommodate modern performances, as well as the installation of central air conditioning, allowing year-round use of the performance space for the first time.

Other major features include the construction of generously proportioned new dressing rooms needed to accommodate large contemporary productions, and a mirrored rehearsal room with parquet flooring and large windows that allow the use of natural lighting during daytime hours. The improvements have made the dressing rooms and rehearsal room handicapped accessible as well.

A new state-of-the-art, high efficiency HVAC system enables the facility to cut electricity costs by drawing power during off-peak hours and storing it for use during peak periods. Plumbing, mechanical and electrical systems were also upgraded to meet the standards of modern productions.

“On behalf of the Board of Trustees and our entire organization, I would like to thank the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders for their vision and commitment in revitalizing the Performing Arts Center,” said Sandy Erwin, Executive Director of the Performing Arts Center.

Other improvements include:

  1. the expansion of the wing space of the theater to provide more room for set design and improved access to dressing rooms.
  2. the construction of a new loading area behind the theater that will improve access for set and production equipment deliveries.
  3. the creation of a new Meet and Greet room for performers and also for reception usage.
  4. the relocation of administrative offices to free up more space for use/rental within the theater.

Upcoming events at the Performing Arts Center:

March 14: “Crazy Over Love,” a one-man show by David Tyson Weaver about a man trying to escape from the “’twilight zone’ of a broken heart.” Weaver is a physical performance artist who combines mime with the traditions of the Renaissance commedia dell'arte troupe, throwing in just a touch of vaudeville humor.

April 3: Boy’s Life, a Pulitzer Prize-nominated comedy by Howard Korder following the misadventures of three former college buddies seeking to make their way in New York City in the 1980s, told in a series of fast- paced, sharply etched scenes. Eight performances ending on April 13.

April 19: “PRELUDE EC Dance Competition,” presented by Southern California’s Team Millennia and co-hosted by New Jersey’s Fr3sh Dance Company. Popular and new up-and-coming hip-hop dance teams from New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Florida, Boston, and many other cities will be on display.

Other performers and events scheduled from May to September include Joy Behar, the Choral Art Society of New Jersey, Junie B. Jones, Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could, The Glass Menagerie, and Neil Sedaka.

For the complete schedule, visit