Last week, I was scouting on Jamaica Ave when I noticed a movie-theater-turned-church up the block.
This is pretty common in New York, where are a LOT of once great theaters have been gutted and repurposed, most often into churches, pharmacies and gyms. I’ve stopped in quite a few hoping to find the rare gem that’s survived, but have only been disappointed time and again.
But something immediately stuck out about the Tabernacle of Prayer church.
What a gloriously stunning facade:
The entire front is dripping with swirls of ornamentation, a whimsical blend of Spanish and Mexican baroque design – with an aquatic emphasis? Note the mermaid in the center…
And the numerous half-shells dotting the front. I also love that headressed figure on the right:
But was the interior as well preserved? Or was this another case of a beautiful facade masking a lifeless interior? I tried to go inside, but the church was closed until Sunday. I was definitely coming back.
In the meantime, I did a bit of research and was surprised to learn that this was once the Loew’s Valencia movie palace, one of five flagship Wonder Theaters opened by the Loew’s chain in and around New York in the late 1920′s (a time when an elevated subway used to run along Jamaica Ave).
All five Wonder Theatres are miraculously still standing. I’ve written about Brooklyn’s Kings Theatre (now being restored), and I’ve been to The Bronx’s Paradise Theatre, Washington Heights’ 175th Street Theatre, and the Loew’s Jersey City. But how had I missed the Valencia?
Then I found this picture of the interior in its hey day, and it floored me. It wasn’t so much a theater as an outdoor village, complete with a night sky. Could this possibly have survived into the 21st century?
With fingers crossed, I returned the following Sunday. And, just going into the entranceway, I was taken aback.