Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Longest Continuously Operating Movie Theater in the Nation, Ridgewood Theatre, Becomes City Landmark by Nicholas Hirshon - NY Daily News

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Landmark status would save the Ridgewood Theatre. Anderson/News

A Queens moviehouse that was once the longest continuously operated in the nation jumped the last major hurdle to becoming a city landmark Tuesday, as officials credited the Daily News for alerting them to its storied past.

The designation of the Ridgewood Theatre, profiled in The News' "History in Peril" series in 2008, will assure its protection from demolition or alterations.

Boasting 2,500 seats upon its unveiling in 1916, the Myrtle Ave. mainstay survived the advent of the TV, VCR and DVD before its 91-plus-year run ended in 2008.

"Queens is very lucky the Ridgewood survived that long," said preservationist Michael Perlman, who spearheaded efforts to landmark the structure.

Besides its cultural value, the movie palace touts Beaux-Arts design by renowned architect Thomas Lamb, such as a pair of heavily encrusted shields in terra cotta.

Robert Tierney, chairman of the city Landmarks Preservation Commission, hailed The News' "crusading" reports and "persistence" that "helped bring [the Ridgewood] to our attention."

Marisa Berman of the Queens Historical Society, which ran a "History in Peril" exhibit last year based on The News' series, said she was glad "something so positive came out of it."

The move still requires nods from the City Planning Department and then the City Council.

But the commission's vote was considered the last major hurdle for landmarking because the local City Council member, Elizabeth Crowley, has vowed to guide the designation through.

Before Tuesday's vote, Crowley (D-Middle Village) heralded the predicted landmarking as a "long-awaited victory for many of the people I represent."

Landmarks Preservation Commissioner Margery Perlmutter said she hoped the designation would spare the Ridgewood the fate of other moviehouses that have been demolished.

"We have to protect them," she said.

Perlman said the Ridgewood's owners, who did not attend the vote, hope to eventually reopen with retail on the ground floor and movies on the second.

Joining the Ridgewood in the ranks of new Queens landmarks Tuesday was Public School 66 in Richmond Hill, which the commission labeled "one of Queens' most distinctive school structures."

Opened in 1901, the red brick academy - with round window arches and a distinctive six-story tower - was lauded by commissioners as "amazing" and "innovative and striking."

The school is co-named after the late First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, who was known for her commitment to literacy and historic preservation. She led the charge to preserve Grand Central Terminal.

Her daughter, one-time Senate prospect Caroline Kennedy, wrote to the city in 2008 to back the PS 66 landmarking proposal.

"The significant connection of Jackie Kennedy Onassis to this school is sort of an icing on the cake, if you will," Tierney said.

Also Tuesday, the commission took an early step toward landmarking the neoclassical Queens General Court Building on Sutphin Blvd. in Jamaica. Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia laid its cornerstone in 1937.