A Palace in Queens: Loew’s Valencia

English: Looking northwest across Jamaica Aven...

Looking northwest across Jamaica Avenue at Loews Valencia.

Growing up, my favorite theater was the Valencia in Jamaica. No mere movie theater, it was an experience, a Hollywood production its own right. Here with my brother Matthew, I first experienced the glorious, magical world of movies.

It wasn’t my first trip to the movies, but it was my first trip to a real movie palace.

That first excursion to the Valencia was on a rainy Saturday afternoon. With not much else  to do, off we went to see Shane with Alan Ladd. It had just opened at the Valencia. It was 1953. I was 6. When I had to go to the ladies room, I became so enchanted by the theater, I got lost. The ceiling of the Valencia was called “atmospheric,” a dark distant sky full of realistic twinkling stars.

Not to mention the fountains and strange Rococo architecture the likes of which I doubt were ever seen in a “real” building and certainly never by me, even in my imagination. I couldn’t pull my eyes away and eventually forgot where we were seated in that vast building.

An usher with a flashlight had to help me find my family.

Today, as a Pentecostal Church.

The Valencia was in downtown Jamaica, Queens, about 3 or 4 miles from my house. It opened in 1929 and was the first of the five Loew’s ‘Wonder’ Theaters. Others would be in various parts New York, including Astoria, Queens, the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Manhattan. My sister-in-law graduated in the Loew’s Paradise in the Bronx, twin theater to the Valencia.

Inside the Valencia.

The decorations are described variously as a mix of Spanish Colonial and pre-Columbian, but that doesn’t do it justice. It was fantasy land, and it was entirely unlike anything in reality. Certainly unlike anything in my reality or experience. The theater was enormous, with seating for 3,554, including a vast orchestra section and several balconies.

Architect John Eberson supposedly based his design on Spanish architecture motifs, using wrought iron railings, ornate tile work, sculpture and murals. I suspect a drug induced hallucinogenic state, but perhaps he just had an amazing imagination.

Its extraordinary combination of brick and glazed terra-cotta outside was purportedly inspired by Spanish and Mexican architecture of the Baroque or “Churrigueresque” period, though I have my doubts about that. Details included elaborate terra-cotta pilasters, cherubs, half-shells, volutes, floral swags, curvilinear gables and decorative finials … and of course within, lay that astonishing “atmospheric ceiling” full of stars.

English: 3-Manual, 8-Rank, Robert-Morton Organ.

The Valencia’s 3-Manual, 8-Rank, Robert-Morton Organ. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 1935, the Valencia began to show double features. By the 1950s, it had become my family’s the “go to” movie theater for a special Saturday afternoon. This continued right through the 1960’s.

The Loew’s Valencia was the most successful movie theatre in Queens. Its location in downtown Jamaica, which was then the primary shopping area in the borough and for Long Island before shopping malls changed all that, combined with the theater’s ability (part of the MGM system) to show new movies a week before any other theater in the borough, made it wildly popular.

valencia

The Valencia (Photo credit: ho visto nina volare)

As for me, I’d have happily gone there even if no movie were showing. The theater was a star. Just those twinkling stars held me transfixed, hypnotized.

I would stand staring up at it until someone asked me if I was alright. I wasn’t, really. I was lost in the stars.

The Valencia ended its life as a movie theatre in May 1977. Since then, it has been the Tabernacle of Prayer for All People church.

At least it was spared the fate of so many other movie palaces. It was not leveled to make way for yet another cookie-cutter cinemaplex. That’s something.



Categories: History, Life, Movies

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

11 replies

  1. Your Valencia Theater sounds like my Varsity Theater in Evanston, IL. It was built in the late ’20s along with a second, larger theater also called the Valencia. Movie-going was so much more given over to the grand theater of the imagination … Thanks for the mention, i have a more specific post about the Varsity in “Remember When Movie Theaters Wove Screens Out of Silver” — Great post …

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    • Those were great theaters, eh? They’ve preserved a couple in Boston, but they are not general run movie houses. I’m not sure any of the really old grand movie palaces just show movies anymore. I miss that. It was part of the mysterious world of movies when I was growing up 🙂 I’ll check out your post!

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  2. I think you’d enjoy the Majestic Theater in San Antonio. (Come here and I’ll show you. Or see http://www.majesticempire.com/aboutMajestic.php. Or search google images for better pix. It really is like a different world. What refuge, what joy these palaces must have been for our parents and grandparents, especially during the grim days of depression and war. I still have a pitcher and bowl my mom got “at the movies” in New Jersey – treasures now, perhaps moreso then.

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    • I love all the old movie palaces. Many were alive and well as I was growing up. New York was a hub for top of the line movie palaces … no real surprise. Ironically, it is in smaller cities that most of such places survived. New York has a way of deciding if it’s old, it’s time to bulldoze it flat and built something shiny and new. Not a sentimental bunch. I’d love to get to San Antonio, see you and everything else … but the odds of that right now are pretty slim. I live in hope.

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  3. My Queens, New York movie experiences are posted elsewhere but I agree it would’ve been enough just to go to some of those movie “palaces”, just sit and dream. Fortunately, we had the movies, the extras and the atmosphere. Those were the days and we were so lucky to have them. I had the strangest dream last night. My Mom and I were at The Carlton. We were buying hot dogs. Bogie walked in. They began to talk. I woke up!! Damn!!!

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  4. Going to the movies was a huge event for me when I was younger, even if we didn’t have a beautiful building to go to- just a non-descript box of a place as far as my memory serves. That must have been so cool.

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    • It really was special. Mostly, I went to the el cheapo third or fourth run movie theaters … the 9 cent movies … because that was what I could afford on my so-called allowance — if I walked. I didn’t get an allowance. I got bus fare. So if I walked instead of using the bus, I could afford a movie. I walked a LOT.

      The trips to the fancy places were special occasions. I could never afford one on my own. It was one of the small graces you of growing up in New York: you had special stuff you didn’t find elsewhere. Museums were still free then and I used to cut high school and go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, or the Cloisters (a museum that’s an actual medieval cloister brought over from France and rebuilt on the Hudson River palisades and full of medieval art) and the cavernous NY Public Library. No one looked for hooky-playing students at museums. They looked in malls and I was a museum junkie. We had super public transportation. My poor granddaughter lives out here in the middle of nowhere. Growing up with NO public transportation is horribly frustrating. By her age, I could and did go everywhere in the five boroughs of New York because one subway fare, by then 15 cents, would get you from anywhere to anywhere else … not necessarily in a straight line, but if you knew the system, you could get there. Out here, you need a parent to drive you. I’d have hated that. In Boston, a couple of the old movie palaces (they never had as many as NY) have been restored and are in use, but none of them compares to the huge palaces I knew as a child.

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  5. My first ever movie was “Bambi” by Walt Disney. I was in my teens when my sister visited from out of town. Barb is 10 years older than me and had a wonderful husband. They took my brother & me to that first movie as my old country German parents would never think of doing that. It costs money. 😦

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    • My first was “Peter Pan,” also Disney and it was my Aunt Ethel and Uncle Herman. They took me to the Radio City Music Hall. It was the one and only time I ever went there. I was only five and my mother was in the hospital giving birth to my younger sister … thus my aunts and uncles were in charge. My mother would never have takes me there. She might take me to the museum or a matinee at the ballet (they were cheap back then … really cheap, like the bleachers at ball parks used to be), though mostly, we went into Manhattan to window shop and the big treat were hot chestnuts from a street vendor … but movies were usually local and cheap. Nine cents for kids, 11 for adults.

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