Campaign To Save Our Historic Ridgewood Theatre - JuniperCivic.com
Serving Middle Village and Maspeth since 1938.

Originally published in the June 2008 Juniper Berry Magazine

Campaign To Save Our Historic Ridgewood Theatre

The Ridgewood Theatre in the late 1940s

No expense would be spared in erecting a new modern theatre with a 2,500 seat capacity ‒ the lobby would face Myrtle Ave and the stage door on Cypress Ave, said the Levy Brothers when purchasing the plot at 55-27 Myrtle Ave from Bauer & Stier. Modeled after Times Square's long-demolished Mark Strand Theatre, the 1st movie palace in the world, the $250,000 fireproof Ridgewood Theatre was designed by America's foremost architect, Thomas W. Lamb, and built by the Levy Brothers. The firm also built the Fifth Avenue & Bedford Theatres. Rumors of the new playhouse began circulating in late 1915, and in Feb 1916, ground was broken on the 100 x 158 plot bounded by Myrtle Ave, Cypress Ave, and Madison St.

Thomas Lamb is notable for at least 300 of the largest motion picture theaters countrywide, including the Strand, Loew's State, Rivoli, Rialto, Capitol, Pythian Temple, RKO Keith's Flushing, Forest Hills' Midway Theatre (his last theater), as well as Hotel Paramount and the former Madison Square Garden at 8th Ave & 50th St.

In 2006, many patrons, preservationists, and historians, began fearing that the development of Glendale's Atlas Park megaplex would offer competition to an unkempt Ridgewood Theatre, despite its historic charm. To their dismay, the Ridgewood Theatre shuttered in March 2008, which marked the end of its nearly 92 years as a first-run theater. Opening its doors on December 23, 1916, the Ridgewood Theatre held the record for the longest continuously operating movie theater citywide, and potentially throughout the U.S. The theater staged Vaudeville and silent films. It also saw the advent of photoplays i.e. Down To The Sea In Ships (1923), the first "100% All-Talking" feature, Lights of New York (1928), and classics i.e. The Ten Commandments (1958) and Quo Vadis (1964). In recent years, it was converted into a 5-screen theater with 1,950 seats.

The 3-story Indiana limestone & glazed terra cotta facade is a highly ornate gem, incorporating unique geometric patterns, medallions, a frieze, pilasters, and proudly boasts Ridgewood Theatre across the top. The exterior remains highly intact, with the exception of aluminum siding on its first story, which is easily reversible. The theater lobby is mostly intact. Interior murals originally depicted the history of Ridgewood. The corridors and screens have some original features visible to the eye despite multiplexing, and rumor has it that more architectural features may survive intact underneath faux walls.

Theaters are the ultimate public institutions which have bridged the generations, as they foster growth and pride in our communities, harbor countless personal memories, and often exhibit the work of our country's most skillful architects. They were erected with the theater patron in mind, and commissioned architects hoped to leave a long-lasting impression of grandeur, confidence, serenity, and comfort; a bold step away from the daily pressures of society. With the onset of DVDs, and vastly improved home entertainment centers, movie theaters with a minimal number of screens are dwindling, and are now most endangered citywide (along with religious sites). When theaters are sacrificed in the name of progress, their loss is often most heartfelt. Since such a quantity have been insensitively altered or demolished for typical box stores, it is imperative that we preserve, restore, and adaptively & creatively reuse all such cornerstones of our community.

Until recently, the owner was considering leasing the 2 ground floor theaters for retail or performing arts, and reopening the upper floors' screens for films, but it has been placed on the market in mid-May for $14 million, and now this gem is more endangered than ever. Myrtle Ave/Ridgewood is up & coming, and property values have improved in recent years, thanks to the coexistence of Myrtle Ave BID, Ridgewood Property Owners Civic Association, Greater Ridgewood Restoration Corp, and Ridgewood Local Development Corp. There is also an emerging arts scene locally and nearby in Bushwick. For prospective owners, grants and tax credits would be available to restore the theater to its former glory, from a number of sources. In addition, funding can be saved on some renovations by enlisting volunteers. A model of vision and progress is the Loew's Jersey's.

In affiliation with Queens Preservation Council, Rego-Forest Preservation Council submitted a Request For Evaluation form (RFE) to the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission in March 2008, and the LPC's Research Dept sent a photographer to the site to document the Ridgewood. Supporters have submitted letters endorsing the RFE. To date, the LPC has not calendared the site for a public hearing to determine its eligibility as a NYC Individual Landmark, nor have they rejected the bid. Nearby theaters with an unfortunate fate include the Oasis, Parthenon, Irving, & RKO Madison Theatre (retail), but the Ridgewood Theatre doesn't have to join the RIP list.

How you can make a difference in the Ridgewood Theatre's future:

1. To show your support, join the Friends of the Ridgewood Theatre group, and encourage your family and friends to join: www.myspace.com/ridgewoodtheatre. The Ridgewood Theatre earned placement on Edward Summer's recently established "NYS Movie Theatre Corridor" (sponsored by Buffalo Int'l Film Festival), whose mission is to record and preserve historic theaters from Buffalo to NYC: www.myspace.com/movietheatrecorridor.

2. Be a creative thinker, and reach out to film &/or performing arts groups that will adaptively & creatively reuse the theater. Contact Michael Perlman at unlockthevault@hotmail.com with your thoughts.

3. To increase the likelihood of achieving landmark status for the facade and lobby, please take a few moments and submit a letter of support/statement to the Landmarks Preservation Commission:

Chairman Robert Tierney

NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission

1 Centre St, 9th Floor North

New York, NY 10007

Dir. of Research Mary Beth Betts

NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission

1 Centre St, 9th Floor North

New York, NY 10007

Please carbon copy:

Michael Perlman

Rego-Forest Preservation Council, Chair

c/o Central Queens Historical Association

P.O. Box N

Kew Gardens, NY 11415

unlockthevault@hotmail.com