The Little Firehouse Theater Continues to Entertain
A Journey into Oradell
The iconic Hagler's building may be gone, but the Little Firehouse Theater and the old train station still bring a sense of history and architectural distinction to town in an age of standardization.
The Bergen County Players are celebrating 85 years since they first set up shop. They have been in town in their present home since 1949. Seeking to provide entertainment locally in the midst of tough times, a group met in a back room at the Hackensack YMCA. They signed a charter and brought into being a community theater organization they called The Bergen County Players Inc. One of those original organizers was Helen Burke Travolta, mother of John Travolta.
She, along with the other original members, may be found in a picture that hangs in the lounge of the Little Firehouse Theater, the Players’ current home (It can also be found on the group's website).
According to a history at the theater group's website, the theater group drifted from high school auditorium stages to various barns and then settled into The Barn Theater, which used to exist along Howland Avenue, River Edge. It featured a pot-bellied stove and a family of skunks in residence under the foundation. One cold winter night in 1944, the structure burned to the ground. Nobody knows how the fire started, but the blaze left the Players homeless. In the best theatrical tradition, the next show opened on schedule at Bergen Junior College, which later became the Teaneck campus of Fairleigh Dickinson University.
In 1949, the town of Oradell built a new, modern building for its firefighters, leaving the old building on Kinderkamack Road vacant. It didn’t take long for the Bergen County Players to see the potential in the quaint historic firehouse (pictured right, during renovations in 1949). After negotiations with the town, they took over the space, built a stage on the back, put seats where the old fire trucks used to be and called their new space The Little Firehouse Theatre. The theater built an extension in 1969 for extra rehearsal space and storage; increased its seating capacity to 210; upgraded to an electronic light board in 1980; installed central air conditioning in 1982; computerized the box office in the 1990s and, recently added handicapped accessibility, among other improvements.
Today the theater continues to offer quality and reasonably priced entertainment in an historic location with character.