With its arched doorframes and windows, White Eagle Hall resembles a Gothic-style church. But ascend the concrete steps and step into the lobby of the landmark building and you’ll be bathed in a red and purple glow. Beyond the lobby is the vast, open floor of Jersey City’s newest performance venue.
The long-awaited concert venue and theater opened its doors last month. Two restaurants downstairs, Cellar 335 and Madame Claude Bis, opened last summer and are already attracting crowds to the building, located seven blocks from the Grove Street PATH station.
Built in 1910 as a community center by Polish immigrants, White Eagle Hall later became the home gym of Basketball Hall of Fame coach Bob Hurley’s St. Anthony Friars. The team would win a national record 23 state championships.
The newly renovated White Eagle Hall preserves part of the building’s history, but mixes in modern amenities, such as sound isolation springs in the floors and walls. Sound diffusion and absorption panels were added to the ceiling to eliminate echo and unwanted noises.
The wood panels from the old basketball court were repurposed as White Eagle Hall’s bar counters and balcony floor. Wooden fixtures from Jersey City’s St. Boniface Church, built in 1865, were installed in the window frames and balcony railings. Altar fixtures were added to the box office/merchandise area. The handcrafted stain-glass skylights, one commemorating composer Frédéric Chopin and the other renowned opera singer Marcella Sembrich, have been restored and dramatically backlit.
White Eagle Hall has capacity for 800 standing and 400 seated. The venue was packed for its opening night show, featuring two Jersey City bands, Sunshine & the Rain and Rye Coalition. Mayor Steven Fulop was on hand for a pre-show ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Talent Buyer Heath Miller promises to book local and national acts into the venue. “My goal for White Eagle Hall,” he says, “is to serve the entire local music community and work with a variety of genres.” Upcoming attractions include Buckcherry on July 6, Roky Erickson on September 9, Melody’s Echo Chamber on October 8 and The Mountain Goats on November 10. While the focus will be on indie rock, Miller, who also books shows at Webster Hall in New York and Mexicali Live in Teaneck, says White Eagle Hall also will present rap and hip-hop shows.
The venue also will host theatrical and dance performances presented by the Jersey City Theater Center.
Jersey City artists are cautiously optimistic about the new venue’s support for the local music scene. Marcel Rudin, of the Jersey City band Morus Alba, says, “I’m hoping they’ll be able to draw national touring acts to Jersey City, but at the same time be able to supplement that with local exposure for all genres and artistic backgrounds.”
The closing in 2013 of beloved Hoboken club Maxwell’s left a vacuum in the area music scene. It was rumored that Maxwell’s co-owner/booker and WFMU DJ Todd Abramson would be involved with White Eagle Hall. However, Abramson and developers couldn’t come to terms. Instead, Abramson is booking shows at WFMU’s own venue, Monty Hall. Located on the ground floor of the radio station on 43 Montgomery Street, the 243-capacity Monty Hall’s has been featuring indie acts and local bands for the past year. The restored Loew’s Jersey Theater in Journal Square also has occasional shows with indie and local acts.
On May 25, White Eagle Hall became the first theater in Jersey City to receive the Excellence in Preservation Award from the Jersey City Landmarks Conservancy. According to the conservancy, “the annual award recognizes the recent restoration, rehabilitation, or adaptive reuse of a building, structure, or object exemplifying a high regard for the site’s historical integrity.”Click here to leave a comment