By Sarina Trangle
The city has approved plans to build apartments above the Ridgewood Theatre while preserving its facade, but a preservationist seeks to remind the historic structure’s owners that what counts is on the inside.
The city Department of Buildings signed off last week on paperwork from Bushburg Properties LLC, which purchased the shuttered theater for $6.9 million in August, that outlined plans to convert the first floor into 13,638 square feet of commercial space and construct 50 residential units on four floors above it.
Filings for the 55-27 Myrtle Ave. building note that work will be done within the existing shell and the three-story entryway will remain intact.
Bushburg Properties did not respond to requests for comment.
Gary Giordano, district manager of Community Board 5, said he and fellow board members met with Bushburg earlier this year and he believes the Brooklyn-based reality company was trying to use the first floor for arts and entertainment, as the community requested.
“To my knowledge, there haven’t been any single parties or organizations that were willing to lease that ground floor all by themselves,” he said, noting that a more integrated approach might be more successful. “If you have some divergence or different venues, there it is more likely to succeed … sometimes it could be for theater, other times it could be for music and maybe art exhibits.”
Giordano said the 50 residences were slated to be rentals.
After the theater closed in 2008, Michael Perlman led the push to landmark the nearly century-old theater. In 2010, the city Landmarks Preservation Commission awarded its facade and marquee landmark status, meaning their historic value merited protection and could not be altered or demolished without consent from the panel.
But Perlman said the interior deserves safeguards as well.
Built by architect Thomas Lamb in 1916, the Ridgewood Theatre’s auditorium boasted a rare, backlit stage, balconies comprised of figurines and ornate medallions, moldings and plaster details, while the lobby had angelic muses from Greek mythology, domes and vaulted ceilings, Perlman said.
Perlman said he has not received answers about whether the theater’s interior has been altered despite many inquiries to its new owners.
The theater once hosted Vaudeville, silent films and talkies, according to Perlman, chairman of the Rego-Forest Preservation Council and the Friends of Ridgewood Theatre group dedicated to its preservation.
He sent a letter to Bushburg in September, shortly after interior demolition permits were issued, requesting that the company consider preserving the theater’s auditorium. He included a list of organizations and resources for attempting to capture preservation-related tax credits, benefits and other government aid.
“Queens was once dotted with theatrical gems, but almost all theaters today lost their historic interiors, despite some facades that were preserved,” Perlman wrote in the letter. “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.”
Perlman said he has not heard back since sending the letter and is not sure how much interior demolition has altered the auditorium.
Reach reporter Sarina Trangle at 718-260-4546 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.