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Recalling the Mosque Theatre & Building

By Nat Bodian

Click on image to enlarge.

        Newark Symphony Hall at 1020 Broad Street near Lincoln Park had a long and illustrious life as the Mosque Theatre.

        The Mosque Theatre was opened in 1925 with a 2,880 seat capacity, a 70 foot wide stage, and near perfect acoustics.

        By the 1960's, nearly all of the 'greats' of popular and classical music and the performing arts had performed for Newark audiences on the Mosque Theatre stage including Judy Garland and Frank Sinatra.  The Mosque Theatre orchestra was directed by Newark-native Mort Lindsey.

        Around 1961, I recall going to the Mosque to see a basketball game played on the Mosque stage:  The Harlem Globetrotters 1 vs. the Hawaii 50th Staters.  The Globetrotters, with Meadowlark Lemon as the star, easily won against the opposition team, which traveled with the Globetrotters and played under various names.

Judy at the Mosque

        Unquestionably the biggest event in the history of the Mosque was the May 2, 1961 appearance of Judy Garland.  Her show broke all house records up to that time, not only for the size of the gate ($18,000), but also for attendance.

        The 2,880 seat auditorium managed to sandwich in well over 3,000 Garland fans, which included 150 in the orchestra pit, and more in the aisles and in the rear.

        The Newark Star-Ledger report the day after the Garland concert called the attendance 3,600.  Alan Branigan's concert story in the Newark Evening News said there were "more than 3,800."

        Newspaper reports said traffic on Broad Street near the theatre was tied up for more than an hour while ticket holders made their way to the theatre.

Mick at the Mosque

        Another notable happening at the Mosque in the 1960s that drew capacity crowds was the afternoon and evening performances of the Rolling Stones with Mick Jagger in November 1965, as a stop on their Fall American Tour that year.

After the War

        A notable post World War II appearance on the Mosque stage that attracted throngs of Newarkers was a concert by Benny Goodman, the renowned king of swing, and his orchestra.

The Mosque Building

        The Mosque Theatre Building also housed offices and a ballroom where numerous Newark social events took place during the 1920s and 1930s.  It was also the site of various broadcast studios.

        In the 1940s, the studios of Radio Station WAAT were in the Mosque building.  By 1947, at the Mosque, the station also signed on with WAAT-FM, and in 1948 also began with a television station initially known as WATV, a commercial station on Channel 13.  It would later become WNET.

        I recall visiting a Channel 13 broadcast in the early 1960s to witness the first presentation of a television commercial that I had written for the Housecraft Sewing Center at Market and Washington Street.

        The time had been purchased as a "one minute pitch" but actually took three minutes to perform.

        A teacher from the Housecraft Sewing School mouthed the commercial as she demonstrated how easy it was to put together a dress on a Necchi sewing machine.  (Housecraft was the exclusive Necchi distributor in Essex County).

        Started with pre-cut pieces ready to assemble, she started the commercial while sewing the dress parts at the same time.  She finished the commercial and the dress at precisely the same time--in three minutes.


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