We Love Ridgewood Theater, a group organized by Community Board 5 member Mercy Wong and her neighbor Bridgette Vidunas, has been generating buzz in the community and on Facebook with hopes of securing the future of the building.
According to Wong, there is a 90 percent chance the new owners will go “residential” with the property, however their group is reaching out in hopes of creating a platform with the neighborhood to discuss their own vision for the landmark.
“If there is a theater group that wants to use this space then that would be perfect, but we respect that the owners might have other plans,” Wong said. “They are stakeholders as well, they own the building and we understand that, but we just want a place at the table.”
While the façade of the 2,500-seat theater is landmarked, the depth of the building that stretches back along Madison Street to Cypress Avenue, facing a largely residential portion of the neighborhood, is open to a wide range of possible development, according to Wong.
Since 1916, the theater at 55-27 Myrtle Ave. has delivered nearly a century of films, early 1900s vaudeville acts and introduced “talkies,” the first films with sound, to the neighborhood. Since it’s closing in March 2008, the building has been left to the elements and become a dilapidated shell of its former grandeur.
“It makes the street, it makes this place and it makes sense that the community is involved with going forward,” Wong said. “Supermarkets come and go, retail comes and goes, but this was a historic place and it was a theater that provides entertainment and has a collective luring with the people that lived here.”
Vidunas lives near the theater, and has worked with Wong towards developing an organized effort in notifying the public of any future development.
She hopes the developers will lean towards an entertainment-focused venue, similar to Brooklyn Bowl, and “something like that would employ a lot of people in this neighborhood,” Vidunas said. “The Glendale bowling alley closed and I’ve been talking to families in this neighborhood and they need somewhere to go.”
She added they are currently looking for a local celebrity to help promote their plan.
“If this had some sort of attraction, people are going to bring people from outside this community,” she said. “We firmly believe that if you put some kind of arts and entertainment venue there, this neighborhood’s script is going to shift.”
Ted Renz, executive director of the Myrtle Avenue Business Improvement District, has focused on the theater since it closed in 2008 and anticipates working with the new owner.
“The property is very important to our commercial strip,” Renz said. “The building is in contract and if everything goes well, the owner should take the title in June. At that point he promised he would introduce the new owners to the BID and get a sense of what they have in mind for this property.”