The Ritz Theater, the last remaining historic theater in the City of Newburgh, New York, is slated to begin work on a new marquee on Tuesday, December 10, 2013. The new Ritz Theater marquee was designed by the award-winning architectural firm Westlake, Reed, Leskosky with an eye to the past while utilizing technologies that will take it well into the future.
Sitting atop the new marquee are boldly painted and illuminated five-foot-tall open-faced channel letters that spell the name of the theater, R-I-T-Z. The marquee is rear-illuminated and features a rail-mounted, dimensional lettering system to announce upcoming events. A painted steel channel frame that includes raceway chase lighting borders the event signage on the top and bottom. All of the lighting is accomplished with Light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs that are both energy-efficient and require less maintenance. In collaboration with the architects, the New York City-based design firm, Pentagram, developed the graphic design for the marquee including the font selection and letter size. The design is a bold, contemporary interpretation of a historic theater marquee taking into account the history of the theater.
Work to be completed includes the selective demolition of the existing theater canopy, protection of the existing steel structure, and the installation of a new canopy, roofing, soffit and marquee. The contractor for the project is Carey Construction of Kingston, New York.
“This stunning new marquee will welcome visitors to the Theater while beautifying the streetscape on lower Broadway. This next, very visible phase in the restoration of the Ritz marks an important milestone in reestablishing downtown Newburgh as a cultural center for the Hudson Valley and beyond” comments Lisa Silverstone, Executive Director, Safe Harbors of the Hudson Ritz Theater.
In 2002, the Ritz Theater was purchased by Safe Harbors of the Hudson, a not-for-profit organization, adjacent to the theater, committed to transforming lives and building communities through housing and the arts in the city of Newburgh. In 2008, the not-for-profit Ritz Theater Newburgh, Inc. was created with the goal of restoring the landmark to a working 825-seat theater. That year, the first step in the restoration process began with the renovation of the Ritz Theater lobby that now serves as an intimate performance space. The Lobby at the Ritz Theater has become a popular venue for live theatrical and musical performances including Hatmaker’s Attic Productions and the Tom Humphrey Music Series, community meetings and a variety of special events. In 2010, the second phase of the restoration was completed with the opening of the new Ritz Theater Box Office.
The Ritz Theater is the last remaining historic theater in the City if Newburgh. Neglect and fire have claimed the others. The theater originally opened its doors on February 13, 1913, as the Cohen Open House.
In 1933, Eugene Levy purchased and renovated the theater and renamed it the Ritz. It was then that the theater began its most illustrious chapter, presenting major films of the day and live performances by such stars as Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Mary Martin, Peggy Lee, Dick Powell, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Red Skelton, Xavier Cugat, The Inkspots, Vaughn Monroe, Les Brown, and many others.
Most notably, it hosted the stage debut of comedian Lucille Ball and was named by Parade magazine as the birthplace of the I Love Lucy television show. On December 17, 1941, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz performed together for the first time at the Ritz Theater just weeks after they were married. The renovation of the Ritz would restore the original stage on which these artists performed decades ago.
Westlake, Reed, Leskosky is one of the oldest architectural firms in the country. Specializing in the areas of performing and cultural arts and historic preservation, their other projects include the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts in Bethel, New York; the Historic Balboa Theatre in San Diego, California; the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Lauderdale, Florida; and the Coronado Theater in Rockford, Illinois. The lead architect for the Ritz Theater marquee project is John Adamek.
Pentagram is a multi-disciplinary design firm with offices in London, New York, San Francisco, Austin and Berlin. It is owned and run by nineteen partners who are all leaders in their individual creative fields.
The construction of the Ritz Theater’s new marquee is funded, in part, by a grant from the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation and by a grant from the United State Department of Housing and Urban Development.