Ridge Theatre demolition stirs up memories
This is getting out of hand, I distinctly remember thinking as three women took their frustration out on me. They had come to the Ridge Theatre to see a film about the 1950s at a venue from the same era. In my capacity as manager, I was taking the blame for their show being cancelled.
That same feeling of helpless came to mind again as I stood silently at the edge of the green fence surrounding the ruins of the Arbutus Shopping Centre this past Sunday night (September 29). Only half of the frame of the old Meinhardt’s and most of the frame of the Ridge itself still stood, albeit without its sign or entryway. Steel girders and other support beams lay twisted at the entrance, as if the theatre itself was coughing up the very foundations that had held it up for six decades.
Through the exposed pipes and drywall, past the pockmarked wall of mirrors, and across from the undeniably fragmented staircase stood the only part of the theatre relatively untouched: the mural of a romantic couple being projected that had dominated the entry to our lobby. The edges were worn away, but perhaps there was an intentional brief reprieve for the painting, an understanding by the demo crews to keep that one aspect of the building’s history as long as possible? Or maybe the paint had dried to form a near-adamantium shell protecting itself. Probably not.
I entertained the notion of hopping the green fence and picking my way through the rubble, passing the crater that was once the bowling alley and restaurant, and pushing my way up to those stairs. I could take them as I used to five days a week for two and a half years, two at a time. I could get to my old office, and maybe if the door was still there, I could grasp that knob one more time and push my way in.
The office would be how I remember it: the awkward gun safe being used to store cash and tills, the server collating sales data balanced on both a Coke and a Pepsi flat, and my desk to the left. The server might be attempting flight with its histrionics, and I would sit in my delightfully comfy chair that had conspicuous stains on it from (I assure you) managers past. I would have just enough time to ensure we actually had staff coming in for their shifts and perhaps puzzle over the contents of the drawer in the center of my desk before running into the booth and playing mad doctor with the Century Cs.
The projector closest to the door was Perky, and she was always the dirtiest, seeming to collect grease as a hobby, with a couple pieces missing for good measure. Yet, she was the most reliable. Her twin was Pinky, and the number of Tesla coils she burnt through should have made me mad, but she was just misunderstood.
Apart from the bafflingly high ceiling, the girls were my first real introduction to the Ridge, a hodgepodge of collected parts and retrofitting, but with enough of the original casing left to retain their charm.
I never did get around to repainting the booth. The mismatched colours were a bit off-putting to me at first, and I’ve always believed that a clean booth is a happy booth. I feel kind of bad about that now, but at the same time, it wasn’t really my booth to paint. Nor was it really my theatre. I was the last in a long line of managers, and at times it feels wrong to claim ownership over the experience.
But I think that’s part of the experience right there: to be part of something that was bigger. To speak to elderly patrons who proclaimed their first job was at the theatre. To learn that my own father frequented the theatre as one of those troublesome teens in the late '70s and early '80s during the Saturday midnight shows. To go behind the screen and change the masking, grasping the ropes the many other hands had grasped—behind the scenes, all for the show.
In my mind, I could almost hear myself call out to that lineup that was curving around the block, telling them that this year’s showing of Rocky Horror Picture Show was again and predictably sold-out.
In the darkness of that night, on that quiet street, I checked over my shoulder to see if anyone was around, then called out once more. I asked that patrons have their tickets out and ready. But it was too silly, because the energy of the crowd wasn’t there.
A lone Canada Post truck drove down Arbutus, and I realized I was cold.