After the Final Curtain: The Ridgewood Theatre

A look inside the Ridgewood Theatre, the oldest continuous first run movie theater in the country when it closed in 2008.

Welcome back to After the Final Curtain, featuring the photography and writing of Matt Lambros who documents the neglect of America’s greatest theaters in his website

Proscenium Arch - Ridgewood Theatre
The top of the proscenium arch

The Ridgewood Theatre opened on December 23, 1916. Located in the Ridgewood neighborhood in Queens, New York, the 2,500 seat theater was built by the Levy Brothers Real Estate firm. The Ridgewood was designed by famed theater architect Thomas W. Lamb, who is known for the design of many New York  area  theaters. The Ridgewood was modeled after the now demolished Mark Strand Theatre, which was the first ever motion picture palace.

Balcony Level - Ridgewood Theatre Queens, NY

The Ridgewood’s façade was constructed in the Beaux-Arts style, and used many classical elements such as pilaster and glazed terracotta shields. The interior was designed in a greek revival style, with murals depicting the history of the neighborhood.

The right side of the stage. Ridgewood Theatre Queens, NYSome of the walls dividing the space have been removed on the main level of the theater, revealing the original decor underneath

The Ridgewood was operated by many theater management companies over the years, including William Fox, who added it to the Fox chain in 1923. The theater showcased many different forms of entertainment, from vaudeville to photo-plays to silent films. After the space was updated to show films with sound, the first all-talking motion picture, “The Lights of New York,” played at the Ridgewood in 1928. Due to the Great Depression and lawsuits from competitors, William Fox went bankrupt in 1936, and sold his interest in the Fox Theater chain.

Main level - Ridgewood Theatre Queens, NYThe main floor of the auditorium was divided into two separate theaters. After the theater closed, the wall separating the two was removed.

The Ridgewood was purchased by the United Artists theater chain and turned into a five screen multiplex theater in the 1980s. The balcony was converted into three separate theaters and the main level of the auditorium was split in two. It remained open during the multiplexing, the balcony was sealed off, and movies were shown on the main level. When the balcony was complete work began on the main level, and the movies were shown in the balcony theaters.

Original projector room - Ridgewood Theatre Queens, NYThe original projector room still exists above its replacement

Because of declining ticket sales, the Ridgewood Theatre closed in March of 2008. When it closed it was the oldest continuous first run movie theater in the country, partially because it never fully closed during the multiplexing. The façade was declared a landmark by the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission in January 2010. Although there have been a number of proposals for the reuse of the theater since its closing, there are currently no plans to reopen.

Facade - Ridgewood Theatre Queens, NY
The landmarked facade of the Ridgewood Theatre

New Projector room - Ridgewood Theatre, Queens, NY
A new projector room was built at the top of the balcony when the theater was multiplexed

Original projector  - Ridgewood Theatre Queens, NY
A close up of one of the original Peerless carbon arc projectors

Entrance - Ridgewood Theatre Queens, NY
A chandelier still hangs in the entryway of the theater

Woodwork - Ridgewood Theatre Queens, NY
A close up of some of the plaster and woodwork that was discovered after the mulitplexing was removed

Ceiling - Ridgewood Theatre Queens, NY
The original ceiling remained visible after the theater was multiplexed in the 1980s.

Balcony level - Ridgewood Theatre Queens, NY
One of the original entrances to the balcony level

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