RITZ THEATER, Port Richmond

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One of the unwritten pop music stories in New York City is the role played by everyday, humdrum neighborhood theaters and venues as rock and roll hotbeds. Some of the biggest names in rock history — names inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame — have played some of New York City’s most provincial of neighborhoods.

In the early 1970s it was possible to stroll into a theater on a weekday afternoon in Borough Park, Brooklyn — a Hasidic Jewish enclave then as now — and hear the Grateful Dead play several hours-long concerts.

In the early 1970s it was also possible to buy a ticket and hear the Kinks or Jethro Tull when they roared into town, and not necessarily at Madison Square Garden or at Forest Hills. They played here, in humble Port Richmond, Staten Island, at the Ritz Theater at (Port) Richmond Avenue and Anderson Avenue.

The Ritz had an arrangement with Ungano’s on West 70th in Manhattan, which presented all the big names, and many of them came out to Staten Island when concerts were presented here from 1970 to 1972. In addition to the aforementioned, Vanilla Fudge, Captain Beefheart, Mountain, Black sabbath, Edgar Winter, the Allman Brothers, Humble Pie, King Crimson, Yes, the Byrds, Sweathog (the Shondells without Tommy James), J. Geils, Deep Purple, Alice Cooper, Badfinger, the post-Morrison Doors, Uriah Heep, the Chambers Brothers, Fleetwood Mac (before Buckingham and Nicks), Delaney and Bonnie, Grand Funk Railroad, Hot Tuna, the James Gang (with Joe Walsh), Frijid Pink, Procol Harum, Richie Havens, Three Dog Night and T. Rex all played at the Ritz during that two-year period.

Long before that, the Ritz was a vaudeville and movie theater from 1931-1968. The likes of Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Mae West, Jack Benny all appeared here.

At the very least, the Ritz should have a memorial plaque affixed to its exterior. It should be a modern monument to concert entertainment.

Few realize it’s there, and fewer know its history.

Information from It’s All the Streets You Crossed Not So Long Ago

3/24/14





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12 Responses to RITZ THEATER, Port Richmond

  1. Bill Tweeddale says:

    Kevin, your article is quite a revelation to me! I lived within a mile of the Lowe’s 46th Street, but never knew it to be anything but a movie theater. I also went to college on Staten Island, but never heard of the Ritz. I moved out of the city in 1968 for my first job and missed the “Great Band Era” by a few years. I wish I could say “I saw them back when….”.

  2. Lady Feliz says:

    Funny how NYC seems to concentrate more on Manhattan (and Brooklyn) since the 1980s. You look through old newspaper ads in the 1930s-70s and many big names would perform at venues in the “outer” boroughs. Once the corporations took over venues and ticketing, almost nobody started performing outside of MSG and a few small gigs at Manhattan clubs. Too bad.

  3. Frank says:

    Wow, Kevin, that was really interesting. I grew up on SI and was away in Oswego for college during that time. I had no idea that all those great groups performed on SI. I did go to the Paramount Theatre in Stapleton once when they were trying to make it into a rock style nightclub and I do remember seeing Brooklyn Bridge at The Stadium in Tottenville many years ago.

  4. genomon says:

    I remember seeing hard days night at the Ritz theater with my big bother all the girls in the theater were screaming could hear a thing

  5. Hoosac says:

    I saw the Allman Brothers at the Ritz shortly after Duane Allman died in a motorcycle accident. Considering the large hole left by his absence, they sounded pretty good. Also considering the fact that it was freezing cold in the building that night. I’m surprised their fingers didn’t seize up. Not a bad old theater, and very convenient from Bay Ridge, where I used to live. As Kevin noted, there was a time when you could see major acts all over the city, and the tickets did not disappear three minutes after they went on sale. But don’t get me started….

  6. Roger_the_Shrubber says:

    Isn’t that the same Ritz Theater on the cover of Zep’s the Song Remains the Same?

  7. Renee Neumann says:

    Yes, I also saw A Hard Day’s Night at the Ritz in 1964 with my 12-year-old (girl) friends and couldn’t hear much of the dialog due to the screaming of the hundreds of preadolescent kids in the audience! Had to wait till years later and seeing it on TV to appreciate the well written and very witty screenplay. Seeing “Help!” at the Ritz the following summer with my mother was much easier–there were more adults in attendance and very little screaming so we could enjoy the entire film. Also saw my very first rock concert there in 1970, the Chambers Brothers. The Ritz Theater was my neighborhood movie theater from the mid-1950s to 1968 and holds many pleasant memories for me.

  8. Patti Moran says:

    I remember when the Ritz was a movie theater-spent many saturday matinees there; an old grumpy woman was the “matron” who got alot of popcorn and candy thrown at her. When I got older I saw lots of bands. My first “date” was seeing Vanilla Fudge and Rotary Connection with Minnie Ripperton. My dad dropped us off and picked us up. The place was thick with pot smoke-we were only 13 and didn’t partake but I’m sure we got a contact high. The best shows I saw there were by Chambers Bros., Humble Pie and Grand Funk Railroad. It was really a beautiful theater.

  9. april says:

    I can hear the voice of WNEW-FM’s deejay Dennis Elsas announcing concerts at the Ritz Theatre in the 1970s; it seemed everyone who was anyone played there. Thanks for featuring this grand ol’ establishment, Kevin. I wonder what’s to become of it.

  10. Joseph Ciolino says:

    One of the many reasons people, in general, do not “celebrate,” for lack of a better word, the use of theaters as venues for rock is because their use as movie and vaudeville houses are so much richer and more interesting. Personally speaking, of course.

    I grew up in what’s now known as the “East Village” of Manhattan where I attending movies as a boy at the venerable and quite beautiful Loew’s Commodore on 2nd Ave. and 6th Street. It was a movie palace built in 1926 and served the neighborhood as such for 40 years. Then, it became the Filmore East. I saw Cream there in 68 or 69 but always mourned the loss of this beautiful house as a movie theater. Nothing about the place complemented rock. You may as well have held these performances in a large box. Now, the building is long gone.

    But my memory of that magnificent interior, a remnant of the “Golden Age” of movie palaces, remains clear and bright in my mind. It was the Filmore for only about 3 years.

  11. Bob Herman says:

    Nice read. It should be noted that many of those artists played the Ritz on more than one occasion, We had Yes as an opener to The Kinks for two shows in November of ’71 and they returned as a headliner on February 29 for instance. Deep Purple (two nights), Mountain (’70 and ’71), Procol Harum (’71 and ’72), King Crimson (’71 and’72),Savoy Brown (3/72 and 8/72) ,Quicksilver Messenger Service (’71 and ’72), Cactus (’71 and’72), Buddy Miles, Edgar Winter’s White Trash (’71 and ’72 ,Lee Michael’s ’71 and ’72(Lee released a live double album recorded at the Ritz) , Badfinger 3/72 and 5/72 ,The Chambers Brothers(four shows over two nights 4/71 and two shows on one night on an earlier date in ’70),The Vanilla Fudge (four shows over two nights 1/70) and the Byrds ’71 and ’72 all played the Ritz more than one night or show…On many of those nights we had an early and a late show….Remember late shows?

    Other notable concerts at the Ritz included Iggy and the Stooges/MC5 10/31/70, B.B.King ’72, Dave Mason 6/72, The Velvet Underground with Lou Reed opening for Cactus in July of ’71, The Phlorescent Leech and Eddie (Flo and Eddie/TheTurtles) featuring the entire Frank Zappa’s Mothers circa 1971opening up for The Doors, Canned Heat, Savoy Brown playing in August of ’72 with the opening act Rory Gallagher (Melody Maker’s guitar player of the year) watching in the wings unable to perform due to problems getting his work visa.Joe Cocker coming out to check out his opening act Redbone who were opening for King Crimson. A teenage guitarist by the name of Gary Moore and his Irish band Skid Row opening for Buddy Miles in 1971. Legendary guitarist Albert Lee’s band Head,Hands and Feet opening up for Procol Harum second time at the Ritz in August of 1972 on the heels of their enormous album Live with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra.

    The Ritz actually stared doing concerts in January of 1970 with two night of the Vanilla Fudge.

    That’s just a glimpse of what happened at the Ritz and I was fortunate enough to play a part in those concerts from The James Gang 9/70 thru The Doors 8/72.

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