Los Angeles is lucky to have so many vintage movie palaces still standing and available for screenings, as opposed to my home town of New York City, which has surprisingly few. That’s why I was delighted to learn about one in Queens I never knew about: the former Loews Valencia, now the Tabernacle of Prayer on Jamaica Avenue. The man who chronicles it so well on his website is a professional movie and television location scout, and thanks to my pal Rick Scheckman I now have hours ahead of me checking out his many posts about interesting and unusual places in the City. To see his fabulous photos of the former Valencia, and his astute observations, click HERE.
If you want to learn even more, I encourage you to join the Theatre Historical Society of America, or at least visit their website HERE . Another great resource is Cinema Treasures, which tracks individual theaters across the country: HERE.
Wherever I travel I’m on the lookout for vintage movie palaces and even “neighborhood houses.” When my family and I journeyed to New Zealand several years ago we were treated to a tour of the incredibly opulent—and lovingly restored—Civic Theatre in Auckland, which like the Valencia is an atmospheric theater with stars and clouds in the ceiling.
The Liberty Theatre in Bedford, Virginia, says it will keep you “Cool As A Pool – Always 70 degrees” in 1931.
I’m also fond of more modest Main Street establishments, and some years ago came upon a photo collection of such theaters. There is something wonderfully evocative about these pictures, which not only display the theater marquees but, just as often, the local businesses that lined the streets alongside them. I grew up with such a theater in Teaneck, New Jersey, and loved looking at the poster and movie-still displays outside. My family patronized the businesses along Cedar Lane, and we always knew what was playing at our home-town bijou. The Teaneck survived as a multiplex until just recently. The other theaters I patronized in nearby Hackensack and Englewood are long gone—and so are most of the merchants that surrounded them.
Here are a handful of those neighborhood theaters in their heyday. We can’t bring back the past, but it’s nice to visit now and then.
Neighborhood Movie Houses
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1. Neighborhood Movie Theaters
The Harris in Findlay, Ohio in 1931, with great painted ads on its side brick wall, and even room for a 24-sheet of its upcoming attraction "Women of All Nations."
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2. Neighborhood Movie Theaters
The Majestic in Harnell, New York in 1929—apparently wired for sound.
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3. Neighborhood Movie Theaters
The Commodore Hull in Darby, Pennsylvania in 1930, named after a notable Naval commander.
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4. Neighborhood Movie Theaters
I don’t know if management allowed you to bring the “home made candy” available at the luncheonette next door when you attended the Lyric Theatre in 1931—but I hope they did.
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5. Neighborhood Movie Theaters
The Indiana in Indiana Harbor, Indiana, with its current attraction on the side marquee and its next feature on the front, in 1931.
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6. Neighborhood Movie Theaters
You could purchase radios and other appliances after seeing the latest film at the Madison in Albany, New York in early 1930.