One of my all time favorite theaters isn’t located in Times Square, or even Manhattan. To find it, you have to go waaaaay down Queens Boulevard to the heart of Elmhurst, where you’ll come across the old Elks lodge #878.
Built in 1924, this Elks lodge was once one of the largest on the East Coast, with, according to Forgotten NY, “60 rooms, bowling alleys, billiards, a ladies’ lounge, and a 50 foot bar, built in the teeth of Prohibition.”
Much has disappeared over the years, but thankfully, the lodge’s crown jewel has managed to survive: the multi-level Aztec meeting hall/theater.
Like something out of an Indiana Jones movie, the room is absolutely dripping in beautiful Aztec-themed molding:
Above the stage, a pair of warriors…
…centered around a clock (note the face covered by the speakers):
The intricacy of the molding just blows me away – look at how many different patterns can be found in just the row of small squares in the picture below, which are nearly impossible to distinguish from the ground:
Before we continue the tour, you might be wondering why such beautiful design work has been covered by a such a boring paint color that does nothing to accentuate it. As it happens, THIS is how the room used to look:
A few years ago, the Elks sold the building to a Christian church and sadly, a new paint job was adopted to tone down the theme (according to Forgotten NY, some of the church’s congregants apparently felt the imagery was too Satanic). A pair of warriors on the sides of the stage are today covered in banners:
Thankfully, the room has otherwise been kept in perfect condition, with nearly all of the molding exposed. Check out this column, for example…
The top of the column:
The top of another column:
Beautiful lights decorating the stairs:
Along the balcony rail…
And the ceiling is especially impressive…
A patchwork geometrical design centered on a pentacle…
…surrounded by an incredibly ornate frame:
In particular, I love the bizarre toothed creatures that appear to be holding the star up (and note the little demon head!):
Another view of the toothed mouths:
If you look for it, you can spot remnants of the old paint design:
Another fantastic column topper:
More railing design work:
Numerous gold chandeliers dot the ceiling, and if you look close, you can see small faces on the rims…
There’s even extensive molding where they attach to the ceiling:
On the rear balcony wall…
…more faces (is that a Groucho Marx motif?):
Above the balcony exit, I count at least three different faces:
One of the exit doors, from back when it had its jungle colors:
A quick peek at some of the other rooms of the building – a ballroom downstairs…
…complete with bandshell:
How it looked about five years ago:
A row of old phone booths with circular revolving doors:
And the perfect bathroom for a gangster to get whacked in…
While I understand that an Aztec-themed meeting hall might not exactly be the right fit for a Christian church, I’m also not sure why you’d purchase something so beautiful and then cover it up.
That said, I’m simply grateful that the design work will be preserved for the ages, to perhaps one day return to its former glory.
And whatever happened to the Elks? Well, they sold the building…
…and moved next door:
Too bad…this is a pretty special place to lose.