Thursday, January 14, 2010

Ridgewood Theater and PS 66 Approved for Landmark Status

By Conor Greene

Two distinctive buildings in Ridgewood and Richmond Hill were approved for landmark status by the city on Tuesday, paving the way for the historic structures to be protected from future redevelopment.

The city Landmarks Preservation Commission voted on Tuesday in favor of granting landmarking designation to both the Ridgewood Theater on Myrtle Avenue and PS 66 on 102nd Street in Richmond Hill. The vote marks the last major hurdle for both applications, which now need approval from the City Planning Department and City Council.

The Ridgewood Theater, designed by noted architect Thomas Lamb, was hailed as the longest continuous operating movie house in the nation until it was suddenly closed in 2008. Before then, it had provided entertainment for nine decades since opening in 1916.

Michael Perlman, who spearheaded the effort to have the theater landmarked, said Tuesday’s vote was the result of several years of lobbying by a number of volunteers. “This is another chapter for this gem’s long and distinctive history,” he said. “These theaters are few and far between, so we have to retain the best of the past for a more promising and thought-provoking future.”

The building’s current owners plan on using the ground floor for retail space with several movie screens on the second floor, according to Perlman. They have also indicated a willingness to preserve the theater’s distinctive lobby and as many of the historic details as possible.

Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley testified in support of both applications at Tuesday’s hearing. “Preserving the history of our neighborhoods is a key component to taking pride in it,” she said. “It is important for future generations to understand their history, and take pride in it and preserving this innovative and striking structure will do just that.”

She added that the theater landmarking “goes hand in hand” with the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s recent approval of the Ridgewood North Historic District, which features turn-of-the-century homes known as the Gustave Mathews flats.

Public School 66, also known as the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School, is a three-story, red brick building built in 1899. Built when much of Richmond Hill was still farmland, it was expanded seven years later and still features arched windows and a six-story tower. It was one of three identical schools constructed in anticipation of an influx of residents to the area as a result of transportation improvements, the subdivision of farmland into lots for residential development and the consolidation of Queens with New York City.

“The school is a remarkable survivor from a time when Richmond Hill was transitioning from a farming community into a residential neighborhood,” said LPC Commissioner Robert Tierney. “It remains one of the most distinctive school structures in Queens.”

Crowley, who has made historic designations one of her priorities, said the school “has been a staple of Richmond Hill for over a century.” Last October, she led the effort to have 109th Street in Richmond Hill as “Nancy Cataldi Way” after the outspoken preservationist who launched an unrelenting campaign to save the area’s Victorian homes before her untimely death in 2008.

Designed in the Victorian Eclectic style, the PS 66 stand out thanks to its tower, which used to contain a bell used to call children to school from neighboring farms and properties. It also features gabled dormers and large entablatures featuring floral ornament. Its design is attributed to Harry S. Chambers, the school’s superintendent and architect for the Town of Jamaica.

The school was renamed the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School in 2003 in honor of the former First Lady’s passion for literacy and historic preservation, and continues to serve as a grammar school.

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