UPDATE, 3:30 p.m.: The Bellvue’s owners plan to start renovations almost immediately, holding onto four theaters, one as a live event space.
By JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
After being shuttered since 2017, the Bellevue Theatre will open later this year, owners are expected to announce Thursday.
At noon, Bellevue Theatre President Doreen Sayegh — representing her father, owner Jesse Sayegh — will be at the theater to announce plans for reopening the historic cinema following renovation, repair and refurbishment of the former movie palace and Montclair landmark.
The Bellevue opened in Upper Montclair on May 13, 1922, and operated continuously for 95 years until its closure four years ago, then leased by Bow Tie Cinemas.
Plans by Bellevue Enterprises/Highgate Hall LLC’s to renovate the facility into six theaters, a restaurant and a bar ended in January, when Jesse Sayegh terminated Bellevue Enterprises/Highgate Hall LLC’s lease due to what he said at the time was a breach of contract. The group consisted of Luke Parker Bowles, Patrick Wilson, Brandon Jones, Andy Childs, Larry Slous, Vincent Onorati and Steven Plofker.
In January, the group’s attorney sent a letter to the township planning department formally withdrawing its application for the theater expansion being reviewed by the Zoning Board of Adjustment. The application was originally expected to be approved in March of last year, the same month the pandemic hit. Another hearing was never rescheduled.
Jesse Sayegh told Montclair Local in January that even though Bellevue Enterprises/Highgate Hall’s plans for the facility had fallen through, he would preserve the building and was considering a residential and retail project with a theater on the ground level.
Parker Bowles — a Montclair resident and longtime director of the Montclair Film Festival — said at the time even though the deal had fallen apart, his group wasn’t giving up on the Bellevue. But an announcement of Thursday’s event distributed by Ilmar Vanderer, founder of ‘Save Montclair’s Historic Bellevue Theatre’ Facebook page, made no mention of the Highgate group.
“We are looking forward to welcoming Montclair back to the movies and want to thank the community for its incredible support for the past four years leading up to this moment,” Doreen Sayegh said in the press release, issued shortly after midnight Thursday morning..
The owners said they plan to present a “diverse spectrum of film programming, including studio, independent and international releases, and providing much-needed space for live entertainment such as musical performances, as well as film festival screenings, lectures and receptions.”
“I am thrilled to follow in my father’s footsteps and reopen the Bellevue Theatre with a full renovation and many more programming options, including special performances and fun, festive events for children, families, and adults. We hope the entire community will join us to celebrate our fall 2021 reopening and our spring 2022 centennial,” Doreen Sayegh said in the release.
Deputy Mayor Bill Hurlock said in the release he is “delighted” by the announcement. He and Mayor Sean Spiller were expected to attend the event Thursday with Doreen Sayegh.
“It will serve as both a cultural hub and economic force for Upper Montclair,” Hurlock said. “This is one of Montclair’s most iconic landmarks.I commend everybody involved for their commitment to restoring this beautiful building to its former glory.”
Vanderer said the planned opening “proves that dreams can come true, hard work does pay off, and there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”
The Bellevue Theatre opened in 1922, designed by architect J.H. Phillips as an entertainment mecca where films and vaudeville acts were presented in ornate Tudor-style settings with tapestries, wooden beams and a tea room.
United Artists acquired the Bellevue in 1983 and triplexed it, obscuring many of the original design elements but also allowing a more frequently rotating schedule of films.
Independent theater operator Jesse Sayegh, then-president of the New Jersey chapter of the National Association Of Theater Owners, purchased Bellevue in 1996, modernizing and expanding the historic theater from three screens to four. Bellevue was leased to Clearview Cinemas in late 1997, and then to BowTie Cinemas in 2013, when they assumed the lease. In 2017, they declined to renew the lease.