20. The Wesley Lake Section, Part 11

The Mayfair Theater, Part 2

 

Let us remember the interior of the Mayfair, or imagine it along with my continuing description:

Through heavy grill doors of copper you walked into the spacious corner entrance, where the Spanish tonalities continued in tapestries, fixtures, a decorative well and a high ceiling of intricate coffers. Patrons purchased their tickets at one of two box offices, turned north and proceeded up a short stairway to another row of tall grill doors. Here uniformed ushers took the tickets.

What was originally described as a "Spanish patio" was later known as the lobby. In this room (which ran north to south) the rich ceiling effects continued, now along with chandeliers and red carpeting. On the east side was the concession counter; on the west was a line of copper doors that led to the auditorium. The grand staircase rose at the north end of the room, turned, and continued up to the mezzanine. This area, which gave on to the lobby below, was decorated with settees, Spanish lamps of lacy wrought iron and other intricate furnishings.

I recall that at the top of the staircase, just across the mezzanine corridor, was a small open parlor or anteroom that led (I must presume) to the ladies lounge. It was furnished like a living room, with sofas, chairs, small tables and probably a few plants. It was always warmly and intimately lighted.

At the top of the stairs (to the left as you walked up) was an old-fashioned brass-caged elevator whose shaft went down to the lobby. It was the kind of elegant lift that you find in old European hotels. I don't recall seeing anyone use it. Perhaps it had been out of service for years.

Walking south on the mezzanine, after climbing the stairs, you could look down to the lobby below. Partway down the mezzanine corridor was the drape-covered entrance to the balcony. After you passed through the heavy drape everything became dark. You could not see the screen, because the short passage that led to the lobby ascended slightly.

The most wonderful thing about the Mayfair was the auditorium, which I here describe:

The fabulous auditorium faced west and seated nearly two thousand. Along the sides, mysterious Moorish arches, swirling columns, torturous moldings and flowery candelabra conveyed the presence of castle courtyard facades. This feeling was carried to the towering proscenium; which was sculpted with arabesques, pilasters, and was crowned with a parapet, in front of which a highly-wrought belfry crested.

Orange "sunset" illumination glowed behind the heights of the proscenium; but what epitomized the out-of-doors effect was the marvelous ceiling, which curved down to and behind the side formations and mimicked a sapphire nighttime sky: The patron, looking up, saw clouds drift over and at times could discern the glinting of a star.

Image 1.20.1: Inside the Mayfair Theater. (Derived from an old B&W photo.)

 

Image 1.20.2: My computer "sketch" approximating the ceiling of the Mayfair Theater.

The first thing that people recall about the Mayfair is the ceiling. To look up at it was pure magic. The twilight-sky-with-clouds effect was similar to what you can find today in the Disneyland ride Pirates of the Caribbean (but much more compact). I used to look up and wonder what made the Mayfair ceiling work. Where did the clouds originate? They continued to drift in soundless, graceful shreds throughout the movie. They were always there, whether or not you looked at them. It was another world, a quiet, peaceful astronomy on top of the world that you entered when you watched the movie. If there was a night sky in the movie you were watching, it became one with the Mayfair sky above (without your realizing it, perhaps until many years later). The beauty of Wesley Lake, outside, was also present all along - as were all things Asbury Park. The sum of this enchantment clandestinely worked on your soul.

***

Much has changed, not only in Asbury Park but in the smaller towns all across America. Case in point: On a Saturday or Sunday afternoon in 1963 I went to see Alfred Hitchcock's film The Birds at the Mayfair Theater. I mention this only because I had to sit in the first row! Imagine filling a 2000-seat theater in a small town or small city for a movie today - in the afternoon no less. I leave the reader to contemplate the transformations that have occurred. It says a lot about many things - entertainment habits, the structure of travel, demographics ...

Click HERE to see what the "Mayfair" looked like in 2002 (and in 1987 and in 1974 and 2007) and what almost happened-actually did happen-to its corner.

I must stop here and tell you that soon I am going to take a full page to probe the effect that this conscious and unconscious wonderment had on me. But first, to redouble or triple the effect, we will visit two other nearby theaters - the Saint James and the Lyric.

 

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