The Incredible Aztec Theater Hidden in Queens

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.

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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.”

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Much has disappeared over the years, but thankfully, the lodge’s crown jewel has managed to survive: the multi-level Aztec meeting hall/theater.

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Like something out of an Indiana Jones movie, the room is absolutely dripping in beautiful Aztec-themed molding:

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Above the stage, a pair of warriors…

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…centered around a clock (note the face covered by the speakers):

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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:

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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:

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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:

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Thankfully, the room has otherwise been kept in perfect condition, with nearly all of the molding exposed. Check out this column, for example…

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The top of the column:

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The top of another column:

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Beautiful lights decorating the stairs:

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Along the balcony rail…

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Close up:

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And the ceiling is especially impressive…

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A patchwork geometrical design centered on a pentacle…

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…surrounded by an incredibly ornate frame:

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In particular, I love the bizarre toothed creatures that appear to be holding the star up (and note the little demon head!):

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Another view of the toothed mouths:

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If you look for it, you can spot remnants of the old paint design:

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Another fantastic column topper:

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More railing design work:

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Numerous gold chandeliers dot the ceiling, and if you look close, you can see small faces on the rims…

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There’s even extensive molding where they attach to the ceiling:

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On the rear balcony wall…

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…more faces (is that a Groucho Marx motif?):

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Above the balcony exit, I count at least three different faces:

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One of the exit doors, from back when it had its jungle colors:

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A quick peek at some of the other rooms of the building – a ballroom downstairs…

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…complete with bandshell:

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How it looked about five years ago:

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A row of old phone booths with circular revolving doors:

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And the perfect bathroom for a gangster to get whacked in…

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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.

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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.

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And whatever happened to the Elks? Well, they sold the building…

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…and moved next door:

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Too bad…this is a pretty special place to lose.

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-SCOUT

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37 comments

  1. That’s truly a gem but that’s such a shame that they bought something so beautiful to after cover it up!

  2. WOW. You’re not kidding; that is absolutely the most beautiful theatre in NYC.

    Were you able to look behind the banners on the proscenium? I find it interesting that, even in the older photos, the warrior’s, um, nether regions is covered up. Is there something back there too racy even for the Elks?

  3. I’ve been past that building hundreds of times, and never given a thought to what might be inside. Your pictures and captions exemplify what’s best about the Internet. Thanks.

  4. I have wrestled in that building many times. It was a haven for professional wrestling prior to the church buying it.

    • I didn’t realize the building was sold. I’ve saw a few ECW cards there in the 90’s. Also attended various seminars there in the early 00’s.

      • EC-Dub! EC-Dub! God I remember catching ECW on late, late night local TV (Channel 21 or 25 or something) back in the day. As the promotion grew, my devotion grew. This was wrestling that harkened back to my youth in the 70s (dirty locations, dirty wrestlers, bad props, bad promos [but short, thank God] and lots of good bloody wrasslin’ and high-flying stunts). My little brother was a WWE (maybe WWF) fanatic back then and when I tried to tell him about this new hardcore wrestling that he should check out, he wasn’t buying it. So I took him to the Elk’s Lodge and got us front row seats. After a few hours of beers thrown at wrestlers which landed on our heads, wrestlers landing in our laps via flying frog-splashes from the ropes into the stands and my brother’s chair getting forcefully “borrowed” from underneath him for martial purposes he was a convert. We enjoyed the Elks Lodge for years before ECW stopped wrestling there then eventually got bought out by the WWE; at that point the brand and entertainment quality faded.

  5. I went to a few weddings there in my day!
    Somebody with sense of the artwork will someday buy the building and return it to it’s former glory.
    Have …. F A I T H !

  6. When it was still the Elks Lodge, the church I belonged to at the time had services there every Saturday. That whole building had the old musty cigar feeling of a men’s club. It was amazing.

  7. Hooray for craftsmanship! It’s a shame it’s all but gone, these days. Thank you for bringing it to us with your photographs.

    How do I get my NY Scouting sticker or button? (I contributed last year.)

    • I have old photos of the Queens Elks Lodge#878.
      When it was first open and was just a Elks Lodge.
      You like it now you should of seen it with bench seating and the lodge room set up for the Elks initiations and Elks meetings. WoW it’s freaking awesome!

  8. I suppose it’s a lot easier to maintain a white paint job then 20 different colors intricately painted.

  9. The flat floor of the theatre would make it great for rock concerts (big crowd standing and dancing on the floor, plus people relaxing on the balcony).

    What about that new Elks Lodge? I bet it’s EPIC inside. :)

  10. Jeremy In Kansas

    Great article! And actually, I prefer the new paint job to the old one. The old one was too gaudy for me, but the new one looks more like it’s marble or some other stone.

  11. Wow, I haven’t seen inside the old Elk’s Lodge since going to see ECW wrestling back in 1999. Glad to see the building is still standing, at least!

  12. I was also going to say that the only time I have been there was for ECW wrestling!

  13. Wow! That place is fantastic! Such workmanship!

    • If you liked the Queens Elks Lodge you should of seen the Brooklyn Elks Temple#22 and of coarse the big New York Elks Lodge #1 and their building and the huge NY#1 lodge room!!!!!!!
      The NY#1 lodge room beats any and all lodge rooms across the board!
      Now frat group had as much historical events happen in a lodge room as NY#1 Elks lodge did on 43rd street which later on became the Diplomat Hotel till it was demolished in 1994 by Durst reality company! Booooooooooo bad form to have destroyed both lodge buildings for a bank and a condo……. Sux don’t it?

  14. I remember as a kid going there to see the Golden Glove fights. Even though I was a little boy I still remember how amazing it was walking around the club.

  15. AMAZING, STUNNING, OVERWHELMING!
    Every picture tells a story, don’t it!

  16. Have been in the ballroom – never knew that the theater existed. Wish I could have visited it before it was bought and painted. I was in the ballroom ages ago – probably 1999 or so – and it was kind of falling apart then – literally. I guess the elks could just not keep it up…

    • They probably couldn’t afford the property taxes the state of NY forces on fraternal order groups in that state. NY property taxes to support welfare state NYC loves so much. Is a giant killer of all fraternal order groups in the NY area. The Elks are no exception to over taxation in the state of NY!!!!
      Believe me the Queens Elks would love not to have to pay property taxes and with that said. Queens Elks could of kept their traditional old huge Elks Lodge building. If not for over taxation of the property. To support some one who won’t get off their but and get a job and quit having kids left and right and want stop smoking CRACK!
      So you can thank the NY state GOV. over taxation for the loss of your wrestling at the good old Queens Elks Lodge#878!
      But, at least the church saved the building from being demolished if not bought at some point.
      So no one point the bad finger towards the church.
      They have saved the building to keep it up and the Elks next door are probably very happy to see their building still stand and is in good hands for now at least!?!?!?!?!

  17. I USED TO WORK FOR SEARS NOT FAR FROM THERE I DID THE STORE REMODELS AND THEY HAD THERE HIRING CENTER AT THE LODGE. ONE DAY I WENT DOWN THERE ONE OF THE MANAGERS WAS TALKING ABOUT IT. SO I WENT AND MY GOD I COULD NOT BELIEVE MY EYES! THIS WAS IN THE EARLY 90S SO IT DID NOT LOOK SO CLEAN BUT WHAT A SIGHT! I FOUND A OLD COSTUME ROOM FILLED TO THE CELING WITH COSTUMES AND PROPS! A STAIRWAY THAT WENT DOWN I NEVER WENT DOWN DID NOT HAVE A LIGHT AND SADLY NEVER WENT DOWN THOSE STAIRS! THEN I FOUND THIS DOOR. WHEN I OPPENED IT MY BREATH WAS TAKEN AWAY! THE THEATRE!!! IN ALL ITS OLD GLORY STOOD BELOW ME! I WAS UP IN THE BALCONY! IFOUND MY WAY DOWN STAIRS TO THE STAGE AND THE FLOOR! WHAT A SIGHT! I EVEN FOUND THESE OLD SCARY ELEVATORS! GOT IN ONE PRESSED UP ALL THE WAY TO APARTMENTS!!! YES THERE WERE APARTMENTS THERE! I MET 3 OLD WAR TENNANTS.. WHAT STORIES THEY HAD ABOUT THE PLACE! TO ANYONE WHO LIVES BYE THERE STOP IN AND SEE THE WHOLE PLACE TAKES YOU BACK IN TIME! AND YOU MUST SEE THE THEATRE!!! THE BALLROOM REMINDED ME OF THE MOVIE THE SHINING! A GREAT PLACE TO SEE!!! GO!

  18. I go to this church. The paint job before was not all too great, unless you really like gold paint, and the building was falling apart in many places. I don’t know anyone in the church who thinks the design is satanic, but we Christians are sometimes scared of satanic wood carvings and expensive restoration projects. Personally, I think some of the design is over the top, but this is to be expected in any building where a giant elk stands at the entrance. I think it’s a shame they tore down the ancient bowling alley that used to be in the basement (no kidding!), but at least the building isn’t a condo now.

    From what I hear, a scene from A BEAUTIFUL MIND was filmed in the main floor, in the room with the clam shell. It’s the scene in which Russell Crowe figures out the Nash equilibrium.

  19. I used to go to a church back in Boston when I was younger. The whole church had gold leaf designs that they decided to cover up because of the restoration cost. However, the material they used to cover it up (similar color to that) was one that could be removed without ruining the work underneath. Later after raising enough money, they were able to restore the church to its past design.

    Hopefully they did that here?

  20. SIMPLY GLORIOUS!

  21. Check this out: http://www.bluffton.edu/~sullivanm/tennessee/nashville/egyptchurch/church.html
    Am=n Egyptian Revival church in Tennessee! It’s amazing. 2 blocks away from where Hendrix got his start…

  22. Ahaha, my sister’s apartment is a 7-minute walk away from this place, and after seeing this article I decided to check it out for myself. Of course I was turned away because I wasn’t a member of the church. Oh well.

  23. I manage the building now. Was part of the committee deciding on the paint and restoration of the main room. We’re not wealthy nor have crews of people to maintain the ornate color scheme. At least I made the painter keep one last strip showing the old. I’m sure in the building’s hay day it was glorious but without money to keep it up (Elks), decay happens. That ornate ceiling leaked like a sieve. Plaster was falling off. Nightmare.
    As far as the carvings, many congregants frowned and still frown that we didn’t pull them down. Painting them helped to disguise them. Pulling them out to me would have been a travesty to the building we are stewarding.
    Russell Crowe and Beautiful Mind was shot in the basement bar. Bullets Over Broadway was the last to be filmed in the first floor dining room (gold color shell).
    Given time and notice I love to show people around the building. It is a lovely structure with an amazing history.

    • I would love to chat with you about the Old Queens NY Elks Lodge!!!
      I am a member of the Austin , Texas Elks Lodge #201.
      I’m kind of an Elks Historian and would love to hear what you have to say about the Queens Lodge or what it use to be… Shoot me an email some time.

    • Dave is a good tradesmen!
      He gave me a Elk the tour of the building in its entirety. I told him about the Elks traditions and why all New York Elks Lodges are so important to the rest of American Elks lodges.
      The Elks fraternal Order was birthed in NYC in 1867/1868 from a group called the Jolly Corks.
      Charley Vivian, George J. Green, George W. Thompson, and George F McDonald were all fore fathers of the Elks and NYC natives.
      The Elks Lodges in the early years were very elaborate as well as the Masonic Lodges from which the Elks Order was influenced from!
      Dave gives a great tour of the building.
      I liked his open personality and positive think on keeping the building the way it should be, but which a Church back drop to it!

      But, the tour would be even better with a Elk their to tell you what the traditions in the building are all about!

      You can read about NY Elks Ldg. #1 on a web sight called NYC This ain’t the summer of love.
      It’s all about the kick ass building the NYC Elks had in Manhattan on 43rd street. Go to that web sight their are plenty of pictures I have donated to that sight of the interior of the NY Elks Lodge #1 building. Believe me it was a breath taking building inside and outside to!!!!!!!

      Thank you Dave for your kind tour you gave me and my MoM last summer!

      As Elks always say” To our Absent Members”!!!

  24. Jason Castlebury

    Ya the ole Queens Elks Lodge…
    It is sad my Brother Elks sold the rights to the
    Biggest Elks Lodge besides the Elks Grand Lodge War Memorial
    Building which is equally bigger and Gothic looking
    Touch to it.Wow
    The reason most big Elks Lodges are no more but a few
    Out their left. Is back in those days White men belong to
    Something or belong to 2 or 3 groups. Like the big Frat. group
    the Freemason’s and large Masonic halls like the Grand Lodge of NY.!!!
    If you live in New York go to the G.L. Masonic Temple it’s many Lodge
    Room’s are awesome. Us Elks have taken a lot of thangs from the Masonic Lodge.
    Like having elaborate Lodge rooms and Ritual’s even degree’s practiced to back then!
    So even NY Elks Lodge #1 has a checkered past of different buildings used.
    I haven’t myself seen a picture inside NY #1 Lodge room except one image
    Of the Organ shot on google.
    It’s another big Lodge room really nice too!!!
    If any one has photos or images of any old Elks Lodge meeting rooms
    Email me!!! I’m an Elks Historian and would love any old photos of lodge rooms used
    Elks or Masonic lodge rooms.”jmcdrums@aol.com”
    There is one Elks Lodge that is of yesterday’s big Elks Lodges.
    Hartford Conn. Lodge#19 the Ghost Hunters SYFY chn. Watch it and look at the
    Lodge Room called the Ancient Lodge Room.
    Hartford Lodge is my second fav. My first and favorite
    Elks building was Buffalo , Ny Elks Temple #23 the original Temple with Lodge
    room that looks like a Masonic Temple room.
    Buffalo Temple is the way to design a Elks Lodge.
    To bad they knocked the first temple down and built a Hotel as an Elks Temple.
    That was a horrible deal they did getting rid of that awesome Temple.
    Any how they closed the Hotel down. Hotel didn’t make enough money.
    Both spots where the Elks Temples were are now Parking Lots for Buffalo NY, VERY SAD!!!!!
    Maybe in the years to come Elks membership list will go back up to 2 million we could afford these buildings again
    so,become an Elk and get us back to the Ole days.
    Thank you for reading overly long dietribe of my love for
    the BPOE and The Masonic Lodges and their Lodge Room Design’s. Thank you
    Jason Castlebury member of Austin Elks Lodge #201…….
    To Our Absent Members & Past Ole Lodges!
    No past lodge will be forgotten by me even if it was knocked down.

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