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A MOVIE PALACE IN DISGUISE

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by Leonard Maltin
February 12, 2013 1:00 AM
7 Comments
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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.
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7 Comments

  • Bob Clark | February 19, 2013 12:03 PMReply

    Dear Leonard. I must remind you of the Fox Movie Theater in downtown Atlanta. It has escaped the wrecking ball several times and remains a classic movie palace. I saw a great print of South Pacific there. Hosted by Bob Dorian, an original host on AMC before it was sold and became a standard movie junkyard with ads. It has broadway plays in the winter, and movies in the summer.

  • John L. Matthew | February 13, 2013 6:04 PMReply

    Dear Leonard: Once again you are preserving the finest of the past for today! Absolutely gorgeous Movie Palaces & yes- Cathedrals Unbelieveably wonderful. No wonder even in the hungry twenties & thirties, the poor could be transported into a temporary heaven for only a thin dime Today we have virtually nothing John.

  • Paul | February 12, 2013 9:59 PMReply

    I'm wondering if you know of the League of Historic American Theatres? They're a not-for-profit that - in some ways - is similar to the Theatre Historical Society of America, though their focus is to serve as a resource to historic theatre's still in operation (or in the process of being restored). You can find them at lhat.org

  • John | February 12, 2013 6:32 PMReply

    Great post and great pictures Leonard! I wish I had the foresight to photograph all the movie theatres I patronized (or just walked by or spotted in my travels!) before they were mostly demolished or turned into bowling alleys or drug stores. They all had their own character in the old days, from the big city movie palaces to the neighborhood and small town theaters to those main street grind houses where you could see three flicks, old and new, for 50 cents if you went in before 1 PM and 75 cents after that. I love looking at pictures of all the theatres big and small for the architecture and style as well as what's on the marquee. They bring back some great memories of a time that will never come again. Modern multiplexes are about as interesting to me as the quite similar big box retailers. Boring!

  • Norm | February 12, 2013 4:00 PMReply

    If "Theatres" are the footprint of civilization, it would seem that we should recheck the direction we are headed...Using the "Fox" theater in St. Louis, and its' sister in Detroit , the basic style of architecture is Siamese Byzantium...what were they thinking...but it does work.

  • Bob Giovanelli | February 12, 2013 2:42 PMReply

    On the bright side, here's a New Jersey theater that beat the odds (and de-multiplexed itself!), and shows classic film weekends monthly most of the year! The Loews Jersey in Jersey City, NJ. I put up the link here for their website, but the comment admin rejected it as "spam". Google it and find the website if you can, you won't be sorry.

  • charles | February 12, 2013 11:41 AMReply

    Leonard,
    In this article, you mention the movie theatre on Cerdar Lane in Teaneck, NJ. Sadly, it's now closed (as you point out) . It was a quad, and always showed a foreign film or something from the "independent, Sundance" world. Only $5.50 (even on 1st run), and for the most part a quiet, respectful crowd attended. The management (it was well run and well programmed) saw the coming of digital projection, and knew it couldn't convert, and cover costs and expenses that it would bring. When I first moved to this area, I used that theatre (and one nearby) as reasons for moving to the area. I still havent found a theatre nearby, and I'll certainly never match that price!

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