Landmarks hears pleas to save historic Ridgewood Theatre

By Philip Newman

The city Landmarks Preservation Commission Tuesday heard impassioned appeals from Queens and Manhattan for landmark status for perhaps the nation’s longest running movie house.

Nearly 20 people testified, including movie buffs, preservationists and historians using words that included elegant, ornate, treasure and nostalgia, in describing the Ridgewood Theatre.

After the Ridgewood hearing, the Landmarks Commission voted unanimously to give landmark status to Jamaica High School at 167−01 Gothic Drive in Jamaica.

At the hearing for the Ridgewood Theatre, Peter Koch said he was born not far from the theater and lived there into his adult life.

“I remember my first movie — Steve Reeves — at the Ridgewood as a child,” Koch said. “This theater is a treasure that must be preserved for future generations.”

“Like London, New York is a city made up of former villages, contiguous but each a center unto itself and those villages need to keep their local landmarks, buildings that set them apart and prevent them from sinking into a sea of all too often undistinguished new development,” said Christabel Gough of Manhattan, representing the Society for the Architecture of the City.

Michael Reiner of Rego Park said “it is not too late for the Ridgewood Theatre. Now is our moment to take action, not to merely shake our heads once the facade is rubble, the murals are destroyed and the building is merely a shell.”

Raul Rothblatt of the Four Boroughs Preservation Alliance cradled his 7−week−old daughter, Charlotte, under his right arm while praising the Ridgewood and gesturing with his left arm in making his case for landmark status.

“I live in Brooklyn, but I was introduced to the Ridgewood by a colleague,” Rothblatt said. “It’s a gem that must endure.”

Some of those who testified mentioned dishes that their parents or grandparents won at “Dish Night” at the Ridgewood. “Dish Night” and “Bank Night” were institutions of the Great Depression of the 1930s when theaters rewarded cash−short Americans for their patronage.

Michael Perlman of Forest Hills, chairman of Friends of Ridgewood Theatre, said: “Official landmark status would contribute to an up−and−coming neighborhood and a diverse borough. It would be the crown to a landmark in the eyes of the majority and ensure a rare survivor’s longevity for future generations. It is a miracle this day has come.”

Opened Dec. 23, 1916, and suddenly closed just a year ago, the Ridgewood Theatre at 55−27 Myrtle Ave. is the longest continuously operating first−run neighborhood theater citywide and, by some accounts, nationwide.

The theater, designed in the Fox movie chain style by the architect Thomas Lamb, accommodated vaudeville, showed silent films and saw the advent of photoplays, the first “100 percent all−talking” feature, “Lights of New York,” in 1928, Technicolor and the onset of DVDs.

The Landmarks Preservation Commission will vote on the application for landmark designation for the Ridgewood Theatre at its next public meeting session.

Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e−mail at [email protected] or phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 136.