Surflight Theatre Will Host the ‘Girl Who Saved Radio City’ on Saturday

Dec 05, 2017

Rosemary Novellino-Mearns is a hero of the historical preservation movement, and she’ll fittingly be at the recently saved Surflight Theatre in Beach Haven at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 9, to tell her story.

New York City has some landmarks that everybody, be they tourists, commuters or residents, absolutely must visit at least once in their lifetimes. The Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, the 116-year-old, 2.2 million-square-foot Macy’s Herald Square and Radio City Music Hall, just to name a few. But the Big Apple is less friendly to its historical landmarks than a Boston or Philadelphia or Charleston, thanks to a “build newer, build taller” attitude among its developers.

One of the grandest Beaux-Arts buildings ever constructed, McKim, Mead, and White’s magnificent 1910 Pennsylvania Station, was demolished in the early 1960s and replaced with a monstrosity, the current underground Penn Station capped by the fourth Madison Square Garden (build newer, build bigger has been around a long time). As a noted Yale architectural historian once said when comparing the two buildings, “One entered the city like a god; one scuttles in now like a rat.”

Even Yankee Stadium, the House that Ruth Built, the Vatican of baseball, was replaced in 2009 by a pale imitation next door. Fans can no longer watch games contested on the very ground where Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio and Mantle trod but instead have to settle for grass on which PED mutant Alex Rodriguez played.

Radio City, the Art Deco masterpiece built in 1932 and once the Big Apple’s most popular tourist attraction, almost met the same fate as Penn Station and Yankee Stadium in 1978. It was bleeding money, and the people who ran Rockefeller Center considered demolishing it or turning it into a shopping mall or tennis courts. Talk about an ignominious ending!

That’s when Novellino-Mearns, a New Jersey native who was the dance captain of the hall’s ballet company, decided to play David to the Rockefeller Center management’s Goliath. She organized her coworkers, becoming president of the Showpeople’s Committee to Save Radio City Music Hall, and attracted support from the theater’s fans, cultural and political leaders, and the media. Johnny Carson supported her efforts, dedicating a monologue to the issue on the “Tonight Show”; John Belushi angrily tackled the problem in a “Weekend Update” commentary on “Saturday Night Live.” The movement to save Radio City became a staple of local news.

In just four months, Radio City was placed on The National Register of Historic Places list and saved, as were the jobs of thousands of the music hall’s employees. But what was Novellino-Mearns’ reward for her heroic effort? She’ll reveal the “no good deed goes unpunished” climax of her story at Surflight.

Entry to her presentation on Dec. 9 is free. Seats may be reserved online at surflight.org, or you can just show up at Surflight that morning. Copies of her book about her experience will be on sale afterward, and folks will have the opportunity to meet – and thank – Novellino-Mearns for her heroic effort. —R.M.

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