Rediscovering the past of the silent theater in Ridgewood

Queens Rubbish Removal

Vintage oil can in the original projection room of the Rigewood Theater, which has been shuttered since 2008

I snatched an oil can from the projection room of the Ridgewood Theater, because soon, that will be the only thing left of it.

As you have probably heard by now, the historic Ridgewood Theater, which has been shuttered since 2008, may be turned into an Associated supermarket, according to news reports.

Since the building was boarded up two years ago, not many people are aware of the theater’s appearance inside because it is not open to the public. However, because of a demolition and garbage cleanout estimate I did several months ago, I have multiple photographs that I will post today on Trash Treasures of New York City.

Three layers of fabric wallpaper -- the original wallpaper from 1916 was never removed

In July 2010, the real estate team in charge of selling the building hired me to provide an estimate for a full interior demolition and clean out of all of the contents that remained in the theater. I walked around the theater for an hour, jotting down notes and taking photographs of the theater’s conditions at the time. I saw all the little nooks and crannies and crevices from the basement up to the roof. Behind the stage, back staircases — I saw it all.

Balcony level hand rail with plaster ballisters

Nobody ever had access as far into the building as I did, so my photographs are rare. If you go into that building, you won’t necessarily walk where I walked because it’s too dangerous. I’m in the demolition business. Nobody told me, “Don’t go there.” I have to look at what I have to look at.

Arm rest of an original chair in the theater (found in storage room)

Recently, I sent about 100 of my exclusive photos to Nicholas Hirshon, a reporter for the New York Daily News. “The photos show much of the theater is beyond saving,” Hirshon reported last week, “but some carvings, seats and other aspects seem intact.”


Operating projection room up to 2008

Projection Room

When I was walking through the building, I came across a projection room, where I saw several projectors that looked about 30 years old. I thought that these were the projectors that had been used decades ago, back when the theater first opened. I now realize that these were merely the projectors the theater was using before it was shuttered in 2008.

Ship ladder in closet that leads up to original projection room from 1916

As I kept moving through the theater, I discovered a ship ladder tucked away in a closet-like area. It led up to what I assume was the original projection room.

There were just three original projectors left, still bolted to the floor. There was a can of oil from the 1940s that had once been used to oil the projectors. The can was bright orange and said “GULF SAPHIRE MOTOR OIL.” Near a boarded-up glass window, which faced the stage of the theater, there was a cardboard sign that read: “OIL PROJECTORS,” which must have been used as a reminder for employees. I could tell that it was the original projector, just based on the construction of it. It had the look of an old Ford Model T car. Back then, when a car was built, it was very simple — you could take apart a car and put it back together in a day. That’s how the projector was.

Sign that indicates projectors need to be oiled

Storage cabinet in projection room holding the theater's last oil can

Original projector from 1916


Pipe Organ

In response to the Daily News article, Jeff Morrell, a sales engineer from Port Jefferson Station, N.Y., emailed me photos of the theater that he had taken in 1977. Morrell, 62, and his friend Carl Weiss, who has since passed away, were visiting the theater. They shared a passion for theater and pipe organs and wanted to check out the place. Weiss must have known the manager, Morrell said, because they were able to get into the theater before a show was playing.

Ridgewood Theater stage, 1977 (Courtesy of Jeff Morrell)

Weiss and Morell were particularly interested in seeing the “pipe organ that still resided behind the walls flanking the stage,” Morell wrote in his email. “We wondered what was left and what kind of shape it was in.  Although the console was long gone (we could not find it) most of the pipe work was still intact.”

Carl Weiss, friend of Jeff Morrell, standing in front of pipe organ grill in 1977. (Courtesy of Jeff Morrell)

Through basic research, Morell learned that the organ was “built and installed by the Moller Organ Company of Hagerstown, Maryland in 1917.” He said it consisted of a keyboard console and had 16 sets of pipes, each of which acted as a voice in the organ.

He said that at the time, the instrument cost $5,250 and weighed 16 tons. “All pipe organs have what is called an Opus number which identifies it,”Morrell said. “The Ridgewood Moller’s was 2408.” Morrell and I later spoke for at least an hour, discussing the pipe organ and the past and present condition of the historic building.

The Ridgewood Theater

The Ridgewood Theater opened its doors in 1916, and stayed open for 91 years, according to a 2008 Queens Chronicle article, which was written directly after the theater was shuttered. The building was designed by architect Thomas White Lamb, who built more than 300 theaters worldwide.

The same pipe organ grill pictured above, except this one was taken in 2010 -- 33 years later!

The theater opened as a silent movie theater, and the only sound that you’d hear during a film screening was from an organ and a thunder sheet, which was a piece of metal that flaps in the wind to make noises.

After I provided the estimate for an interior demolition job for the theater, I believe that it is unable to be restored. It is simply too far gone and too destroyed to ever get to where it was during its glory days.

“It’s a shame that the theatre has reached the end of its life as such,” Morrell said in his email. “But, that’s life, I guess.”

Stay tuned to for photos of the theater’s original bathroom interior and more!

DiMola Bros Rubbish Removal
1640 Summerfield St.
Ridgewood, NY 11385
Phone: 718-326-6969
Fax: 718-326-7979 /

DiMola Bros — Providing Queens junk removal services since 1956!

~ by DiMolaBros1956 on December 14, 2010.

2 Responses to “Rediscovering the past of the silent theater in Ridgewood”

  1. This is such a shame. This theater still has the potential to be restored. But with out an organization or benefactor, it will probably be gutted and turned into a supermarket. So so sad.

  2. Amazing photos and what a wonderful writeup! Thanks Nick.

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