Thursday, December 16, 2010

Ridgewood Theatre Sold to Associated Supermarkets: Preservationists Want Interior of Theatre Saved

There are many architectural treasures that
deserved to be saved such as this angelic
cameo and muse on the ceiling of the
theatre's lobby, said Michael Perlman
By Eric Yun

The historic Ridgewood Theatre is on its way to becoming an Associated Supermarket, but preservationists and community activists are hoping to devise a plan to protect the theatre’s historic interior.

Preservationists won a major victory in January when the city Landmarks Preservation Commission designated the outside façade as a landmark. Afterwards, there has been a strong lobbying effort by groups including Friends of Ridgewood Theatre to hold public hearings and designate the interior of the theatre.

The hearings never came to fruition, and the theatre, which has been closed since 2008, was sold to Associated Supermarkets franchisee Tony Guzman. According to published reports, the president of Associated Supermarkets Harry Laufer expects the store to open in approximately six months.

Now, preservationists want to work with Guzman to creatively adapt and preserve the architectural treasures inside.

“In many cases country wide historic theatres were creatively reused, and in many cases, working with the architectural remnants instead of demolishing them were more feasible and saved the owner money,” said Michael Perlman, chair of Friends of Ridgewood.

The three-story, 53,238-square-foot Ridgewood Theatre was opened in December 1916 during World War I and was one of the nation’s longest operating theatres. Designed by famed theatre architect Thomas W. Lamb, the interior of the building entails Greek mythology and features angelic muses and original detailing designed by Lamb on the balconies.

There were also several historic movies shown at the theatre. When it opened, the theatre played vaudeville shows, and the first all-talking movie, the 1928 film Lights of New York, was among the first theatres to show the movie.

While Perlman would have loved to kept the theatre completely intact and show movies, he thinks there are several ways Guzman can preserve the theatre’s history and build a successful supermarket.

“Its history should not be abandoned,” said Perlman. “It should be built upon as a marketing incentive.”

It might sound easier to demolish the interior of the theatre to build the supermarket, but Perlman notes that there are several grants and low-interest loans that are available to Guzman if he decides to restore the building. Perlman also hopes the upper floors of the theatre can be used for community and performance arts groups. Allowing others to use the theatre has the potential for supplementary income from rent and community goodwill that would be better than any advertising campaign.

Perlman wants to secure a meeting with Guzman to discuss his ideas. He noted that if Guzman had any plans to change the exterior façade, he would have to meet with preservationists and get city approval. Therefore, it could be beneficial to develop a plan to restore the theatre from the project’s outset.

“I can’t imagine anyone taking a jackhammer and gutting the interior [of the theatre]. It would tear the heart out of many preservationists and residents borough wide,” Perlman said.

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