This City of Princeton Historical Walking Tour plaque contains very little accurate information about one of the downtown historic district’s oldest buildings. It is unfortunate because the Thiel double building (508-512 West Water Street) played an important role in the early days of Princeton.
It was built by August Thiel, a well-known wagon maker, concurrently with insurance agent Josiah Luce’s building at 514 West Water Street, in 1870 not 1884.
The Princeton Republic tracked constrution of the buildings pretty closely, from 1869 when Thiel started gathering stone for the foundation, through completion the following summer. Here are just a couple of the updates:
Princeton Republic, Feb. 12, 1870: “August Thiel is removing his two-story frame store off his lot on Water Street to make room for his large new block next summer.”
Princeton Republic, Aug. 13, 1870: “The front of Thiel’s new block was finished, so far as brick and iron work go, last Saturday, and is really a very fine front. We believe the best in the county, or near it. August was so well pleased with the job done by the masons, and all the workmen generally, that he gave them a splendid supper and entertainment. … August offers a cash premium of $300 to any person who could build as good a building in town, with a better front, within the next year. Who will take the money?”
The upstairs of the Thiel double building was known as Thiel Hall and was, for a time, the gathering spot in Princeton for dances, celebrations and performances. An addition a few years later provided space for a stage and storage.
The building at 512 Water did not house Princeton’s first theater, however. That honor belongs to Turner Hall, rebuilt in 1880 after fire destroyed the original building and later rebranded as the Opera House and Princeton Theatre, at 429 West Water Street.
Alfred Warnke did open a movie house at 508 West Water in 1919. He renovated the space previously rented by Hyman Swed, who had just completed moving his stock of goods to 544 West Water Street. Warnke selected Loyal Theatre as the winning entry in a contest held to name the new business, which lasted about three years.
There was no Liberty Theatre. There was, however, a Liberty Orchestra.