The Ridgewood Theater. — Photos courtesy of Michael Perlman
What was once the country’s longest continuously operating movie theater will entertain film enthusiasts soon again after community groups earlier this year won the building status as a historical landmark.
The Ridgewood Theatre on Myrtle Avenue first opened its doors to vaudeville shows in December 1916 with 2,500 seats. During its 92-year run, the theater lived movie history; silent films, the first "all-talkie" feature, and eventually modern-era blockbusters.
Hoping to save the storied theater, closed in 2008, from demolition, a fate to which many aging New York theaters have succumbed, a coalition of preservationists and community groups joined together to support the building. After nearly two years’ work, the groups succeeded Jan. 12 when the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) designated the building’s facade an historic landmark.
"I’m very, very thankful," said preservationist Michael Perlman, who chaired Friends of The Ridgewood Theatre, the coalition responsible for the landmark effort. "Theaters are the ‘ultimate public institutions’ which bridge the generations, as they foster community growth and pride, harbor countless memories, and often exhibit the work of our country’s most skillful architects."
Perlman said he views the Ridgewood Theatre landmark project as "a case study in terms of teamwork." The coalition included members of the Queens Preservation Council, of which Perlman is director, Rego-Forest Preservation Council, 4 Boro Preservation Alliance Corp, and Central Queens Historical Association, among others.
"Community and cultural groups were shocked by the [theater's] sudden closure," he said. "I was proud to see such a diverse coalition of supporters."
Built by Thomas W. Lamb, the three-story building was modeled after another of the famous architect’s creations, the Mark Strand Theatre at Times Square, which many consider to be the world’s first movie palace. While its lobby underwent a minor Art Deco renovation, presumably in the 1930s, the interior murals originally depicting the history of Ridgewood may still exist underneath some display cases, Perlman said.
"I would like to see the murals revealed and restored in some form, if they still exist," he said.
According to Perlman, the theater’s owners plan to restore as much of the original interior as possible, carefully preserving whatever original murals or architecture they discover.
With landmark status, the building could see new funding opportunities and historic-preservation grants. Perlman says its owners plan to install modern screens in the hopes of opening to filmgoers later this year. He is also leading a charge to get landmark status for the interior, which will require a separate LPC designation.
It’s not clear if the owners’ previous plans to use part of the street-front footage for retail can still be realized with the landmarking.