Rumors Are True – Upper Montclair's Iconic Bellevue Theater To Close, Says Bow Tie Cinemas

Update: UPDATE: Bellevue Owner says Bow Tie Cinemas bowed out, deciding not to renew.

Related: History of Bellevue Theatre and reaction to closing.

Take action: Sign a petition to keep the Bellevue from closing.

Is it the end of movies in Upper Montclair? According to Bow Tie Cinemas, Sunday will be its last day of operations at the iconic Bellevue Theatre, a company spokesman confirmed to Baristanet today.

“Our lease of the Bellevue Cinema has expired, and our last day of operations will be Sunday, November 12,” confirms Jared Milgram, vice president, marketing, food and beverages. However, we continue to serve our loyal customers in the greater Montclair area with a huge selection of movies and exceptional service in our Caldwell and Clairidge Cinemas.”

Will an angel swoop in to maintain the historic structure as a cinema/theater? Stay tuned…

Bellevue Theatre, 1920, Montclair Library Archives

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  1. The theatre is nothing special from an architectural standpoint and every time I have gone there, including very recently, the theatre has been mostly empty.

    I’d knock it down and build something useful. Offices would be great.

  2. I vote for a planetarium, a MoMA, or a brewery that serves cooked-to-order pretzels and a dart board.

  3. Let’s talk Montclair.

    As one of the moderators of the Montclair Watercooler and Watercooler Connection FB group, I see a lot of what you all are discussing. In the last few days the focus has been on this story, the future of the Belleview Theatre.

    Beyond the excellent summary of the issue here, I believe it provides us all an opportunity to reflect on what we want as a town and how we are defined as a community. I also think there is a pretty obvious solution if we want the theatre to stay. But first some simple truths. I will try to be brief.

    The last time we had an election where we actually had choices (not counting 3rd Ward), we collectively voted for a slate that advocated increased development in Montclair as part of the cure for our financial issues. The Mayor had a history in that business and he won the election with that as a part of his platform. In the past few years, we have seen the expanse of tall buildings in Montclair and there are more coming. If you are to believe the financial reporting that becomes public, we are making progress financially. Montclair has been changed to be more development friendly and we are seeing the results. I could go on & on, but if you’re really interested in the back story and details, you would do well to start by reading all the discussion on Bnet by Frank Rubacky and others.

    Another area I see impacting the theatre issue is an understanding of how things actually change here in Montclair. Granted, what I am about to describe is the same elsewhere, but it is especially obvious here. Small groups of very vocal individuals tend to make change here. Pick an issue where something has actually changed and you will generally find a few individuals who are committed to actually doing the hard work it takes. It’s easy to rant either here or on FB about a topic, but real progress is always only made by those who organize in small groups. Organized larger groups are even better of course, but rare to actually see. The management of larger groups of volunteers and nonprofits is a tougher gig. There are many reasons for this, but again, I’ll spare you the details. This does lead in to my third simple truth about Montclair – nonprofits.

    We have an interesting landscape of nonprofits in town. There are many smaller ones doing great works and we have a few behemoths which draw more attention and dollars. It’s a very interesting topic which warrants its own story, but the upshot is that there are a few that draw the most attention and dollars in our community. It is simply the free market at play and residents donating to the nonprofits that draw their attention and interest. One of these nonprofit leaders in Montclair is of course the Montclair Film Festival. It’s a wonderful success story and those who lead it should be congratulated on their hard work and the benefits they have brought to the town.

    I know what you are all thinking, “what does this have to do with the Belleview Theatre closing?”

    I don’t have any inside information on the financial situation at the theatre or with the agreement with the Bow-Tie folks, but what I suspect is that given the fall off in the “butts in seats” numbers at the theatre (a national trend) and the demand for alternative development opportunities (see above), the owner of the building is looking for more money than Bow-Tie is willing to spend. Again, it’s simple “Supply & Command” as Ricky from the “Trailer Park Boys” would say.

    The Baristanet article correctly questions if there is an angel that will save the theatre given this. There are a couple of questions as answers to this, 1) do we as a community want to save it as a theatre, and 2) do we have the organization and passionate group of people to make this happen?

    I can’t answer if we really want to save it. That’s on each of you reading this, but if you do and you want that to remain a theatre instead of a new group of condos, I propose the best reasonable solution is for the Montclair Film Festival organization to lead the charge. As a side note, this has happened elsewhere. See what happened in Traverse City, MI here:,_Michigan).

    Consider the following:
    • It’s their mission to promote film. From their IRS 990 filing, “The Montclair Film Festival connects global filmmakers with audiences in a diverse, culturally vibrant community by presenting films and year-round programs that engage, entertain and educate through the power of visual storytelling.”
    • They have a built-in group of passionate supporters and management. They are well connected, have celebrity influence, and deep pockets (net assets of $1.8M at close of FY 2016).
    • More importantly, MFF has the power of people in its network. If they lead the issue and mobilized their community, there is no way they would fail to save the theatre. The power of numbers is huge.

    To summarize, what we have here is a defining moment for Montclair. Are we committed to the arts and do we support them as we all claim, or are we ready to throw up our hands and have a really slick condo with great midtown direct train access? If it’s the former, I’d like to hear from MFF. What do you think folks?


  4. Montclair is really only half committed to the arts at this point and as it transitions further away from the arts we should re focus priorities.

    A slick condo is better for biz.

  5. The MFF option would have some steep obstacles to overcome. Continuing as a film theater just might not be in the cards. So, I think we should try to formulate some broad consensus objectives we can get as many people behind as possible.

    Foremost in my mind is pursuing a use that builds on the public benefits the Bellevue provided. The use should be consistent with the Neighborhood-Commercial village zone. The use should be a regional draw. The use should offer something new or expands a underserved category in Montclair. Lastly (for now), a use that ideally is adds to the cultural/educational diversity.

    So, my earlier brewery suggestion was tongue and cheek. The planetarium suggestion is way out there both literally and figuratively, as much as I would love it. My MoMA idea was the best of the three, albeit with similar & numerous challenges as the MFF.

    As a practical application of the idea…a branch of the Montclair Art Museum.

    I have always thought the MAM wish list included expanding beyond its American History charter (e.g. to modern art) and add physical resources for new & alternative mediums (e.g. multimedia exhibits). I have no idea how this could work, but the upside potential is compelling enough to explore the option.

  6. The Bellevue Cinema building is an important artistic design anchor and must be protected in order to maintain the quality and value of Upper Montclair Center and the surrounding residential neighborhoods. John Phillips, the architect, designed several local houses, interiors and furniture that responded to this theme, set by Olmsted and his team of planners, that suggested that further development, should be in the style of a rural English, mountainside hamlet village. This was also the concept behind Montclair’s six train stations that serve the beautifully designed residential neighborhoods. This is important American planning history and the aesthetic basis of Montclair’s “trademark”.

  7. OK, in hindsight, the MoMA is not a good idea. I did say I had no idea…and yes, urns out, I had no idea. So, I’m back to idea of the brewery with pretzels baked on premises. Assorted dipping sauces paired with each type of beer. It could be very upscale, low-brow.

  8. jonbonesteel makes a very legitimate point. Mayor Jackson, a longtime developer was elected and re-elected on an aggressively pro-development agenda. He and his slate repeatedly pushed the idea of developing areas in and around the various train stations. As one of the other candidates said during a debate — when you are a hammer, everything looks like a nail. No one can honestly deny how dramatically the character of the town has changed as a result. But this should come as no surprise. That was the plan. You can’t pin the Bellevue Theatre closing on Mayor Jackson as it appears to be a victim of simple economics but the future does not look pretty.

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