Once Upon a Time in Ridgewood, Queens

by John Delach

A piece in the Metropolitan Section of the July 8, 2014 edition of the New York Times grabbed my attention. The piece chronicled the wake for Jason Wulf, 42, a “graffiti titan” who had been electrocuted last week when he came into contact with the third rail in a subway station while practicing his craft.


The article noted: “Mr. Wulf was a link to a vanished New York in which teenagers slipped through fences and etched wild letters on the metal husks of subway cars.”


Benjamin Mueller reported that aging so called graffiti artists, “…introduced each other by the tag names they once painted under bridges and on the walls along the Long Island Expressway…” But also, “…many brought along new wives and stories of recently born children.”


But what struck me was Mr. Mueller’s minor notation that this all happened, “At a funeral home…on the corner of Greene and Seneca Avenues…”  Seneca Chapels, 494 Seneca Avenue. I know this well, it has been functioning for many years but when I was a kid, the building where it is housed was once a third-rate movie theater with a lofty name, the Majestic. It was well down the food chain from our two most prestigious Ridgewood movie houses, the RKO Madison with a real organ and occasional live stage shows and the lesser Ridgewood Theater, still a showcase for new movies once they left the City (Manhattan).


The Majestic was below the next level too, semi-cut rate theaters that recycled better “B” movies. We had two, the Oasis and the Parthenon. The Oasis was the better of the two, cleaner and newer. The Parthenon stood on the corner of Myrtle Avenue and Wyckoff Avenue, a dirty house with an unruly crowd right under the el whose squawking trains could clearly be heard as they negotiated a sharp turn.


The Majestic was even a grade below its peer, the Grandview. At least the Grandview had a separate outdoor area where locals could comfortably watch a movie on warm summer nights.


The Dumps was a big box without a balcony or even a candy counter. A nickel vending machine was the only source for food. It was dirty, smelly, hot in the summer and cold in the winter. The movies were old and forgettable made worse by a balky projector that frequently broke down.


For all of these reasons, people never referred to it as the Majestic but rather as “The Dumps.” But the Dumps had two things going for it, it was close and it was cheap. Since it was only two and one-half blocks from my home, my mother let me go on Saturdays with other neighborhood kids. And the cost, if we arrived before 1 PM, it was eleven cents. After 1, thirteen cents.


(You may rightfully wonder why I remember this minute detail?)


It was a very important element in my life as a kid on Saturdays. I could not go to the Dumps alone and, if the Meyer kids, Blair kids or the Slezak kids were tardy; my day was doomed to failure. My allocation for the movies was sixteen cents and, if we arrived before 1, I had a nickel to use in the vending machine. If not, my three cents in change was useless.


The only movie I remember seeing at the Dumps was The Thing with James Arness (later of Gunsmoke fame). I didn’t remember much of it when I left the Dumps, all I knew was that Mr. Arness’ role as a creature from outer space who killed the scientists working at an Arctic base terrified me to the point that I had nightmares for a week and was banned by Mom from seeing another horror movie for a long, long time.


As for the Dumps, it was rightfully at the front of the first wave of the theaters to close succumbing to the early effects of television. I hope the resurrected Seneca Chapels gave Mr. Wulf a decent send-off