“When your Uncle John and I were small children, Mother used to give us each a quarter to ride the bus into town to see a double feature at the Ridglea Theater. One day, John and I decided to just stay on the bus to see where we’d end up. The driver eventually intervened, and we got home safely, but we didn’t make it to the movies that day. Times have changed, haven’t they?”
Indeed, Mom’s right. Life isn’t what it was in the early 1950′s, but one thing is the same: Ridglea Theater is still a great place to see a show, even several generations later.
That is, at least for now.
Yesterday I received a disturbing email from my husband, Russell (who’s done so many shows for Fastlane Concerts at Ridglea that the theater jokingly put a sign on one of its doors which reads: “Russell’s Room”). After scoping his included link to Kevin Buchanan’s article, I flipped out. Apparently, Bank of America is considering purchasing the historic Fort Worth building and transforming it into a financial institution sans music and community fellowship and my dear old mother’s childhood memories. What an enormous slap to the face of North Texas.
For the last twelve years, Wesley Hathaway and Richard Van Zandt have leased the beautiful, old theater on Camp Bowie. The couple, who met in college and have been together for the past thirty-two years, utilized the Ridglea’s architecture and distinct artwork as a backdrop to showcase local, national, and international musical acts for the Fort Worth area. Aside from providing a unique venue for crowds of one thousand plus, Wesley and Richard’s theater is also responsible for a lot of customer traffic at surrounding restaurants, gas stations, and small businesses within the immediate block. Wesley, formerly the Assistant Science Curator to the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, says she only learned day before yesterday of Bank of America’s intentions. “I didn’t know until a reporter from the [Fort Worth] Star Telegram called and asked me what I thought about it. That’s how I found out! We still have almost a year left on our lease, so we don’t know what’s going to happen.” She and Richard, who also previously worked in the same prestigious, north Texan museum as the Omni Theater Director, confirmed they are booked with lots of upcoming shows and have heard nothing from Bank of America at this time that would suggest cancellations of any kind. In fact, they haven’t heard from BOA about anything, and that’s unsettling for not only Wesley and Richard, but also for an estimated thirty employees who stand to lose work after the demolition.
“I understand the owners [of the building] need to make money. It’s a business,” Hathaway stated, “However, this is the last beautiful, grand building of this type in our area. You lose part of your heritage every time you tear down something historical like this. I see it happening all over the country. People are just not cherishing heritage, and it is a tragedy for the community when things like this are allowed to happen.” Van Zandt added, “Do something with the building instead of demolishing it, you know. The west side of Fort Worth really needs a Community Arts Center. The city could host all kinds of classes and events here, things that would benefit people while preserving the structure.” Richard also pointed out the Ridglea Theater was eligible to have been noted officially as an historic landmark, but the last owner failed to designate it as such.
“Of course, we’d be sad if we couldn’t continue to do these shows,” Wesley admitted. This all comes at a time when the theater is up, yet again, for “Best Venue” in the Fort Worth Weekly. Having previously won the same award for at least eight years, Wesley and Richard have been proud local music fans have selected their venue for similar accolades throughout the years in the Dallas Observer as well as on AOL and in the Fort Worth Star Telegram. She says the two of them will miss the musicians and fans she’s come to love — the very people from all over the world whom I know herald her as the pink-haired First Lady of Texas Metal. “This building — the beautiful mosaic floors and old paintings — it feels like home to the people who come here. The bank isn’t going to care about that.” Wesley fears if BOA is allowed to take over the building, the Ridglea’s historic art and music history will be lost forever.
Beyond the music and the magnificent mosaic flooring, losing the Ridglea Theater to something so sterile and impersonal as a bank would be, perhaps, the hardest blow of all. The Ridglea is the chassis for a slew of extremely personal memories for so many of us — not just Mom. Matt Arnold, my co-worker, was bummed to hear the news, “Are you serious? You know, I saw my first show in there.” He wouldn’t be the only one to claim that honor, of course. I’m sure all the kids who have attended Rock Camp USA during the summers at Ridglea thought it was pretty cool to say that was where they played their first show. I’ve seen a handful of couples become engaged there; Wesley says elderly people have approached her and relayed stories of when they decided to get married while at the Ridglea many years ago. When I asked which was her favorite memory of the theater so far, she paused and said, “I don’t know, Kristan. There have been weddings and so many wonderful events and music over the years. The place has a lot of history for so many people from all walks of life. I mean, it’s where Richard and I took our kids to see the very first Star Wars when it came out. I just don’t want us all to lose it.” I get that. None of us wants to walk into a bank and reminisce about . . . anything. We want to be able to stand in the entrance of the theater and relish it for what it really is: a multi-generational tribute to north Texans and the strong-willed, surviving champion of Fort Worth culture.
When my daughter graduated elementary school, Wesley and Richard gave her a beautiful piece of art, which read:
‘What do I get for this,’ I said, and the angel gave me a catalog filled with toasters and clock radios and a basketball signed by Michael Jordan, and I said, ‘But this is just stuff,’ and the angel smiled and swallowed me in her arms. ‘I’m so glad you said that,’ she whispered to me, ‘I knew you still had a chance.’
After I got off the phone with Wesley last night, I sat in Bella’s room and stared at the words in the painting. I thought about how appropriate they were now, how Wesley and Richard do what they love. Next to the graduation art, my Bella keeps a rubber band ball Wesley gave her years ago when they first met. The extra “Russell’s Room” sign is above the piano in our back room. These kind reminders amplify my sadness because they prove the Ridglea Theater isn’t just a place in Fort Worth that Bank of America wants to tear down. It’s a place in my home and in my heart, a place where my entire family has grown in both the very distant past as well as in the last few years. There is no price you can attach to a structure that serves as such a chapel of memories. The idea of passing by Where It Used To Be makes my stomach turn.
This isn’t set in stone, and there’s an opportunity to save the venue and building from the fate of Bank of America. Wesley has posted an official statement on the Ridglea’s website with information regarding where to write, etc.
City Councilman W.B. Zimmerman , District 3 Office , 1000 Throckmorton St., Fort Worth, Texas, 76102
Telephone: 817-392-8803 Fax: 817-392-6187
Also, there’s a hefty discussion on the “Save the Ridglea” Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=103599513025822
Cherish heritage, one and all. Save this Ridglea Theater, Home Sweet Home.