By ERIN ROLL
Could a new movie theater operator be in sight for the Bellevue Theatre?
That all depends on a series of meetings between the theater’s owner and a number of theater operators taking place over the next few weeks.
Jesse Sayegh, the Bellevue Theatre’s owner, is making plans to meet with prospective movie theater operators.
Angelo Cifelli, the attorney representing Sayegh, said Monday that his client was in the process of setting up meetings with some of the operators who had evinced an interest in taking over the theater’s management.
The 96-year-old theater on Bellevue Avenue, an anchor for much of the Upper Montclair business district, closed its doors earlier this month.
Cifelli said that he himself was not privy to the content of the discussions with theater operators, noting that Sayegh would be overseeing the meetings directly.
“Hopefully, they’ll lead to someone taking it over,” Cifelli said.
Bow Tie Cinemas, the theater’s most recent operator, announced that the Bellevue would have its last day of operations on Nov. 12. That evening was the last time the theater showed movies. The last screening was of the film “Bad Moms Christmas.”
In its announcement, Bow Tie said only that the lease had expired. However, Cifelli told the Montclair Local and other media outlets that Bow Tie had made the decision not to renew their lease on the Bellevue.
The theater chain is also in the process of removing the theater’s projection equipment seating and other fixtures, which it is allowed to do under the terms of the lease. An interior demolition permit issued Nov. 14 was posted on the theater’s doors, which read, “Interior demo in prep for architect’s plans.”
Cifelli said that Sayegh was scheduling an inspection with Bow Tie to see what kind of removal work had been done, but could not say when that inspection would take place.
The closing sparked a massive public outcry from residents, business owners such as Java Love and Little Daisy Bake Shop, and civic groups such as the Friends of Anderson Park. Many people criticized Bow Tie on social media for closing the theater with only a few days’ notice to the general public. A set up a Change.org petition directed at Bow Tie that brought in more than 5,000 signatures, and resident Ilmar Vanderer started a Facebook page called “Save Montclair’s Historic Bellevue Theater,” dedicated to the theater’s history and cultural value.
The Bellevue is one of two commercial movie theaters within Montclair’s borders; the other is the Clairidge, also owned by Bow Tie, on Bloomfield Avenue.
The Bellevue had been one of the screening venues for the annual Montclair Film Festival, and was also the home for a 14-year run of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” Those screenings are moving to Caldwell Cinemas and will begin in early 2018, according to a staffer at the theater.
The Bellevue opened in 1922. Its first film was D.W. Griffith’s “Orphans of the Storm,” starring Lillian Gish. The theater, with its distinctive Tudor-style exposed beams and slate roof, even an indoor balcony and a second-floor tea room, was the object of attention among architectural experts of the day, according to local historian Lisanne Renner.
The theater was built by Robert Anderson, whose family had donated the land for nearby Anderson Park.