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Not so much theater as outdoor village, complete with night sky.
January 28, 2013 8:50 AM   Subscribe

A lot of once great [New York movie] theaters have been gutted and repurposed, most often into churches, pharmacies and gyms," writes The NYC Scout in today's installment of Scouting New York. "I’ve stopped in quite a few hoping to find the rare gem that’s survived, but have only been disappointed time and again." Scouting New York has been featured in the blue many times ( 1 2 3 4 5 6 ), but this entry is (literally, at least in my case) jaw-dropping. Just keep scrolling down.

More on this theater at Cinema Treasures, the Queens Tribune, and (of course) the New York City Chapter of the American Guild of Organists.
posted by Mothlight (47 comments total) 52 users marked this as a favorite

 
Churches see pros and cons to holding services at cinemas
posted by twoleftfeet at 8:57 AM on January 28, 2013


Holy crap. If you are one of those people who check the comments to see if it's really worthwhile to click on the link ... it is really worthwhile.
posted by desjardins at 9:01 AM on January 28, 2013 [13 favorites]


Interesting, how both the old movie theater and the old church have beautiful, similar ornamentation. I guess they were going after the same demographic, or something.
posted by Melismata at 9:01 AM on January 28, 2013


God damn that is opulent. I'd complain about movie theaters not looking anything close to that anymore, but at this point I'm just glad they've stopped tearing them down for a hot second.
posted by griphus at 9:05 AM on January 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


Wow. Just, wow.
posted by yoga at 9:05 AM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm converting to whatever religion this is.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:06 AM on January 28, 2013 [6 favorites]


It closed as a movie theatre in May 1977 with the movie “The Greatest”

Bummer -- closing its doors with a forgettable Muhammad Ali biopic (starring Muhammad Ali himself) and narrowly missing the age of Star Wars, when you could actually fill theatres like this for the first time in a decade or three.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:07 AM on January 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


It seems really appropriate for a church - it inspires that sense of awe that one might feel walking into a cathedral.



Bonus for the congregation - those seats look way more comfortable than pews.
posted by louche mustachio at 9:08 AM on January 28, 2013


Bless that congregation for keeping the building in gorgeous condition. Maintaining a beautiful building takes a lot of work and money, and same churches just can't swing it. This is totally awesome.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:12 AM on January 28, 2013 [15 favorites]


I totally agree with ThePinkSuperhero. For that church to recognize the jewel they have and to maintain it and keep it up, wow. Just wow. And for over 30 years, too!

It actually reminds me a little bit of the decorations I saw in a Coptic Orthodox church. That stylized, gold accented, bright-colored burst of detail.
posted by jillithd at 9:22 AM on January 28, 2013


oh lord take me now
posted by seanmpuckett at 9:24 AM on January 28, 2013


Something tells me I'm going to suddenly find religion the next time I make it to NYC.
posted by redsparkler at 9:56 AM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


beautiful. i saw a couple of shows at the loew's theater in jersey city (one of the other wonder theaters mentioned) a while back and it was absolutely breathtaking. worth the ticket price alone. i'm so glad that this one was preserved!
posted by marshmallow peep at 9:59 AM on January 28, 2013


Wow. The only theater I've ever seen come close to this is the Fox in Atlanta...and it's nowhere near close.

From all the church patrons I spoke with, the Valencia is a treasured home treated with reverence, and it’s safe to say the old movie palace is in good hands.

Thank...well, you know.

I'm an atheist, but tempted to send them a check to help keep the place maintained.
posted by JoanArkham at 10:04 AM on January 28, 2013 [6 favorites]


Loew's Jersey City is gorgeous. I saw Jeff Mangum play there and it was just the most amazing juxtaposition of this beautiful, beautiful theater, and this regular-looking spotlit dude with a guitar singing quiet songs.
posted by griphus at 10:13 AM on January 28, 2013


I love the pre-crash opulence of the twenties. Gaudy as fuck and every inch of it a treasure.
posted by Think_Long at 10:20 AM on January 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Awesome and beautiful yet awful and chintzy at the same time. It would be an amazing place to have a bad trip.
posted by Afroblanco at 10:27 AM on January 28, 2013


On the other end of what can happen to a former movie theatre is the Rite Aid in my neighborhood, which now looks like a Rite Aid, only with weird non-Euclidean curves.
posted by Greg Nog at 10:28 AM on January 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


I am amazed they did not turn it into a Duane Reade.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:34 AM on January 28, 2013


Un.
be.
lievable.

How wonderful that they've kept it up. Seriously amazing. The dusting alone... OUCH.
posted by Madamina at 10:35 AM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


On the other end of what can happen to a former movie theatre is the Rite Aid in my neighborhood.

Sommer Highway Theater TAJ MAHAL BINGO (now a Walgreens.)
posted by griphus at 10:37 AM on January 28, 2013


Thanks for the post, and like everyone else I'm impressed that the church has been such a good caretaker of this amazing place.

Not nearly as elaborate as this, but the Arlington in Santa Barbara (built 1931) has a similar concept ("The auditorium ... is built to give the theatergoer the impression that he is sitting outside in the plaza of a colonial Spanish town, each wall features houses, staircases, and balconies, not painted on but built out from the walls") and is a stupendous place to watch movies.
posted by languagehat at 10:44 AM on January 28, 2013


The Fox Theater in Atlanta follows this mold, and mercifully still functions as an actual theater for both live performances and films. The interior is done up like a medieval Arabian city, complete with sparkling night sky. Absolutely like something out of 1001 Arabian Nights.

The amazing part is that there's a 3600 square foot apartment inside the theater that Joe Patten, a former technical director, holds a life-time rent-free lease on. Color me envious.
posted by Mercaptan at 10:44 AM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


I was confused about how the theatre could fit in that tiny storefront, and then I looked at Google maps.

The entrance is on Jamaica avenue, but the bulk of the theatre itself is actually on Merrick Blvd. They prioritized having a nice street setting on Jamaica avenue (which probably has more retail and higher rents), and put the blank wall around the corner.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 10:59 AM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


That kind of thing could be common in big cities, but it surprised me. A nice bit of urban design.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 11:02 AM on January 28, 2013


The Oriental Theater in Milwaukee is still a theater and has some pretty nice details. Lions, Buddha, stained glass chandelier. We had our engagement photos taken there.

(The Oriental Theater in Chicago is not too shabby either.)
posted by desjardins at 11:26 AM on January 28, 2013


I came in here to point out the Arlington in Santa Barbara as well. I lived up the street from there for a couple years and saw a lot of movies and concerts in that great venue. It's not as ornate as The Valencia, but it too has a fountain, a courtyard, and a Spanish village under the night sky. It's beautiful, and as languagehat said, a great place to watch movies.
On a side note, the red brick courtyard out front also has great acoustics, and a cello player who started practicing in there on otherwise quiet summer nights after the bands at the two restaurants across the street had stopped playing. It was a great sound to fall asleep to.
posted by doctoryes at 11:45 AM on January 28, 2013


This is great, thanks for posting. Good on these folks for keeping the place in such fine shape over the years.

As long as we're on the subject, the Fox Theatre in St. Louis is another old, ornate movie palace that's still being used for musicals, concerts and so on. Unlike the theater in the link, though, it had fallen into disrepair during the late 1960s and early 1970s, and had to be extensively restored in the 1980s.
posted by Nat "King" Cole Porter Wagoner at 12:10 PM on January 28, 2013


That is goddam amazing.

San Antonio is still home to the Aztec and the Majestic.
posted by Devils Rancher at 12:14 PM on January 28, 2013


Holy moly. That is beautiful.

If you're ever in Toronto, ours is the Elgin/Winter Garden.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:28 PM on January 28, 2013


I worked at the Village Theatre in Westwood when I was in high school, and it's still magnificent.

Sadly, if it was sold it (or any other number of amazing buildings in L.A.) would most likely be torn down and replaced with something that could monetize all that vertical space. At least we can still experience architectural history in other places.
posted by Room 641-A at 1:14 PM on January 28, 2013


An equivalent in LA might be the Academy Theater.
posted by Rash at 1:17 PM on January 28, 2013


I'm occasionally tempted to visit City Centre Church here in Edmonton just to have an excuse to visit the beautiful old Paramount Theatre that it's house in.

I haven't been inside since the theatre finally closed for good (for a while, it played host to live theatre and art films) and became a church, but I suspect that they've kept much of the original character, seeing as their website is designed to look something like a theatre website (complete with a "Coming attractions" section).

Weirdly, though, they've apparently got another congregation that meets in a multiplex that is still in active use.
posted by asnider at 1:20 PM on January 28, 2013


I was confused about how the theatre could fit in that tiny storefront, and then I looked at Google maps.

Another example, where a grand old movie theatre is tucked behind an apartment building, and only the little entryway is on the street proper. This one is not used but apparently kept up... there's just no demand for another theatre this size in town.
posted by smackfu at 1:26 PM on January 28, 2013


Smackfu, isn't that The Palace you're talking about?! The. Palace. The one that Every. Single. Aspiring. Vaudevillian aspired to play at. As in, "Wow, he played at The Palace!" The Marx Brothers made it to there. Gene Kelly and Judy Garland wanted to play there in "Me and My Gal". (I think it was that movie.)

*sigh*
posted by Melismata at 2:20 PM on January 28, 2013


Oh, wait, that's Connecticut, never mind.

Still ... the NYC Palace I was referring to is also hidden behind buildings, I believe. *sigh*
posted by Melismata at 2:21 PM on January 28, 2013


St. Louis is still home to The Fabulous Fox Theatre, which . . . this totally blows out of the water, actually. But if you love old theaters, The Fox is definitely worth a look.
posted by BlueJae at 2:40 PM on January 28, 2013


"The Valencia was the work of architect John Eberson, who designed nearly 100 movie palaces around the world, most described as “atmospheric” for their over-the-top, exotic decor...The Valencia is largely considered to be the most elaborate of his (5) New York theaters."

Thanks for this yummy post. Mothlight. I wonder if any of his work in other countries has survived.
posted by Anitanola at 4:00 PM on January 28, 2013


I immediately thought of the Civic in Akron as well. I so wish Scout had been able to go backstage and see how the rigging, flies, dressing rooms etc all held up. This certainly helps offset the senseless waste and destruction that more often seems to be the norm in thse cases.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 4:22 PM on January 28, 2013


Eberson designed the Olympia Theatre (now known as the Gusman) in Miami, which according to it's history page was the first building in the South to have air conditioning. The detailing is similar, though less green and not quite as ornate.

Also, I second going to the Winter Garden if you're in Toronto. I was at a conference there last year and was completely blown away by the celling. I've never seen an indoor roof of foliage.
posted by JustKeepSwimming at 5:49 PM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm mostly pretty optimistic about humanity's future. I'm definitely not one of those End Times people with a stockpile of MREs in a closet, waiting for the new Dark Ages to befall us.

And then I see things like this. Do you know what Jamaica, Queens, is like now? It's not a great place to live. Nobody is building anything this beautiful there in 2013. Hell, nobody is building anything this beautiful even in the prosperous parts of the city. Very few spaces on this level are being created anywhere in America now, for any purpose aside for maybe that of entertaining the idle rich. We certainly don't build anything meant for the general public to these standards.

It's moments like these that I think the American golden age really is behind us, and that maybe it really is all downhill from here.

For what it's worth, there are a few old theaters still open in New York City, though none of them is as nice as this one. I've always been partial to the Paris. I was also hoping, when I saw this post, that it would be a writeup of the Eagle, which is a similarly gorgeous old Art Deco movie palace in Jackson Heights, which until a few years ago was doing brisk business screening Bollywood epics and Indian cricket test matches. I'm a little sad this isn't that theater, just for personal reasons, but this one really is glorious.
posted by Sara C. at 10:06 PM on January 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


I so wish Scout had been able to go backstage and see how the rigging, flies, dressing rooms etc all held up

It was built by Loew's as a cinema, and as far as I can tell would never have run stage plays or any kind of live performance aside from maybe an orchestra for silent film screenings. Though 1929 is the end of the silent era, even.
posted by Sara C. at 10:10 PM on January 28, 2013


I was confused about how the theatre could fit in that tiny storefront, and then I looked at Google maps.

The traditional approach for the movie palaces was to be built with the auditorium actually on a small street adjacent to the major street and the entrance and box office to be on the major street, where frontage is much pricier. This way you can build a larger space where it is cheaper but still have a major street address.

I am not familiar enough with movie theatres in Calgary to speak with authority, but I gather both the Globe and the Plaza work this way. Interestingly, most of the major downtown theatres in Canada built in the last twenty years (the Scotiabanks in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, the Forum in Montreal, the Dundas Square 24 in Toronto) spin this into the Z axis and build a small lobby at grade and put all the theatres a couple of storeys up in the sky.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:55 AM on January 29, 2013


Pruitt-Igoe: "They prioritized having a nice street setting on Jamaica avenue (which probably has more retail and higher rents), and put the blank wall around the corner."

This is something modern developers could learn from...
posted by wierdo at 11:38 AM on January 29, 2013


I am not familiar enough with movie theatres in Calgary to speak with authority, but I gather both the Globe and the Plaza work this way.

I don't think they do. The frontage of the Plaza is as wide as the theatre seating (which is fairly narrow). The building is a rectangle. You can walk in a straight line from the front door to the screen.

It's been too long since I've been to the Globe so I don't remember its layout, but I think that building is also essentially a rectangle. It's two storeys, though, and the theatres are IIRC above and below the lobby. There's a little bit of "blank wall" beside the entrance.

Looks like the old Palace theatre (now a bar) was a box too. Big wall facing the street, but nicely ornamented. The Tivoli (divided up into storefronts in 1990) was a box too, and according to this [PDF, see page 25], had a long blank wall on 4th Street.

The Uptown (RIP) is close in that there are storefronts all along its width. But it's basically an art moderne office building with retail space on the ground floor, theatres on the ground and second floor, and a snazzy lobby.

I think land was too cheap here, and theatres too small, to get a situation exactly like Loew's Valencia.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 5:14 PM on January 29, 2013


I forgot about the Grand, which is a shorter building (the theatre) hidden behind a taller L-shaped building (retail, which includes the lobby/entrance). That's quite similar to the theatre smackfu posted about above.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 10:06 PM on January 29, 2013


I think land was too cheap here, and theatres too small, to get a situation exactly like Loew's Valencia.

Good point. I have never seen a movie in Calgary, and of all the big cities in Canada, it is the one I am the least familiar with, but yes, you are right: land is historically relatively cheap there compared to other cities. That would tend away from the usual movie palace pattern of small lobby, big auditorium.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:07 AM on January 30, 2013


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