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The Black Maria: Cinema history in West Orange

It stands out to anyone driving or walking by on Main Street in West Orange: an old, black windowless shack of a building that leaves many wondering just what that is. Well, it's cinema history.

May 27, 2022, 10:38 PM

Updated 756 days ago

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It stands out to anyone driving or walking by on Main Street in West Orange: an old, black windowless shack of a building that leaves many wondering just what that is. Well, it's cinema history.
The building is a replica of the Black Maria, the nation's very first movie studio created by Thomas Edison in 1893. In it, more than 200 short films were shot. Lighting was so primitive then that the building had a roof that could be pulled open and was set on tracks  so it could be turned  to let in sunlight. The fist on-screen kiss was recorded at the Black Maria.
The replica was built in 1954 on the grounds of the Thomas Edison National Historic Park. It can be viewed from the outside but is off limits to visitors inside because it is not handicap-accessible and needs repairs. The Friends of Edison is raising $150,000 in hopes of improving the building so programming can be held in it. The park superintendent says there maybe could be a return to that old fashioned movie making in some form. as an educational tool. 
"This is hallowed ground for the entertainment industry, and so we can't let this fall into disarray," says Rich Silivanch, of Friends of Edison. 
This comes as New Jersey looks to reestablish itself as a movie making capitol, a designation lost long ago to Hollywood with the advent of talking pictures by the late 1920s. Earlier this month, Lionsgate announced plans to build a massive studio to be completed in 2024 on the site of a former housing project in Newark. Last year, Cinalease Studios opened its sound stages in Jersey City.


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