The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) voted unanimously last Tuesday to schedule public hearings in the near future to potentially grant landmark status to the Ridgewood Theatre. A representative from the LPC said that a hearing is set for March with a final vote slated for this spring or summer.
Among those spearheading the drive to landmark the site is Michael Perlman, chair of Friends of the Ridgewood Theatre, who's been involved since it closed. Last May, he established a historic preservation group through myspace.com, which brought together preservationists, patrons, and community residents in addition to an online petition to landmark the site.
"Official landmark status would be the crown jewel," he said. "A revitalized Theatre will bring in several jobs and help boost our neighborhood businesses and also contribute to the feel of an up-and-coming neighborhood. I do see the Theatre as becoming a major community anchor."
Prior to its closing, the site was the longest continuously operating movie Theatre in the country. Its doors first opened on December 23, 1916, with an original seating capacity of 2,500, and it was modeled after the long-demolished Mark Strand Theatre in Times Square, one of several movie palaces built during the early 20th Century. The Ridgewood Theatre was designed by renowned architect Thomas Lamb and built by the Levy Brothers.
It cost $250,000 to build at the time, which amounts to approximately $4.7 million in today's money when adjusted for inflation. Its exterior features a three-story facade of highly ornate Indiana limestone and glazed terra cotta along with murals built inside depicting the history of Ridgewood. Over the years, the interior was transformed from a single screen to a multiplex with five individual screens and a seating capacity of 1,950.
"It would be nice if the Ridgewood Theatre building was landmarked and restored somewhat to its original state and used as a community venue for arts and cultural events," said George Miller, historian and archivist at the Greater Ridgewood Historical Society, which is housed in the Onderdonk House, Ridgewood’s only landmarked building. "People could take pride in the fact that one of the busiest retail streets in Queens would have a landmark building. They may come upon the avenue and look at the building and pick up a little bit of history. It would be something that the neighborhood could be proud of."
Not only will the Theatre serve as a historical site, Perlman and Miller noted that if reopened, the area would have a cinema once again. Presently, the nearest Theatre is located at the Shops at Atlas Park in Glendale.
Simeon Bankoff, executive director of the Historic Districts Council (HDC) agreed that granting landmark status to the Ridgewood Theatre would improve the neighborhood's appeal.
"Preserving and restoring this local landmark will benefit the surrounding community by ensuring that this special place continues to be a gathering spot, both physically and socially," he said. "Hopefully, over time, it will continue to serve that purpose."
The next steps to achieve landmark status will be a public hearing on the matter followed by a vote by LPC and the City Council. Perlman is optimistic that the Ridgewood Theatre will be designated as a New York City landmark and sees the site heavily patronized in the future.
"Official landmark status would address the prayers of patrons, locals and historians," said Perlman. "It would be a dream come true."