(CAPE MAY, NJ) -- East Lynne Theater Company (ELTC) announced that it has been offered a 25-year lease to utilize Cape May’s historic Allen African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) for its future productions. Having had a successful tenure at the First Presbyterian Church of Cape May for over 20 years, the Company will now begin to raise funds to renovate the space to turn it into a theater with the hopes of opening for the 2024 season.
In 2021, with the blessing of the former congregation, the city of Cape May purchased the church, which was built in the 1850s, after a major fire caused significant damage to the interior, the bell tower and the steeple. The church was then deconsecrated, primarily because of the damage. As part of the agreement with the city, ELTC will act as caretakers to maintain and preserve the physical structure, as well as uphold the legacy of the Black church and the community that supported it.
“East Lynne has been offered an incredible opportunity to expand our performance space, as well as our audiences, through use of this beautiful building,” said Craig Fols, artistic director of ELTC. “However, the real privilege is being trusted with protecting and sustaining the historical significance of this great building and the Black community in Cape May.”
The Historic Preservation Commission saved AME, a National Historic Landmark, from being demolished after the fire. The important historic structure’s bell tower was built by prominent Philadelphia/Camden architect, Stephen Decatur Button, making it a key part of the city’s National Historic Landmark status.
However, what AME truly represents is the brave struggle that African Americans went through to gain freedom and equality in this country. The 19th century church was a place for Cape May’s African- American community to convene spiritually and socially, and served as a respite for those lacking health care or employment.
As part of the agreement with the city, which owns the church, ELTC is contractually obliged to "maintain and preserve” the physical structure the building on an ongoing basis, as they use the church as a theater and share the space with the city for public use.
“We are tremendously thrilled and proud to have been entrusted with preserving this great building,” said Fols. “We look forward to its reopening and showing residents and tourists just what this structure means to Cape May.”
ELTC will continue its 2023 mainstage season at the First Presbyterian Church of Cape May at 500 Hughes St., and work over the winter to open the 2024 season at AME at 717 Franklin St.
Information on ELTC’s current season, as well as ticket reservations can be found at EastLynneTheater.org.
Founded in 1980, East Lynne Theater Company (ELTC) was the first theater in the country with the unique mission of presenting and preserving America's theatrical heritage. The New York Times listed ELTC as one of the 75 top summer theaters in North America. In 2018, the New Jersey Senate and General Assembly passed a joint legislative resolution recognizing ELTC as “one of the state’s most important cultural treasures.”