The Queens Movie Theater You Will Not Believe – Scouting The Valencia Movie Palace

Last week, I was scouting on Jamaica Ave when I noticed a movie-theater-turned-church up the block.

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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.

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But something immediately stuck out about the Tabernacle of Prayer church.

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What a gloriously stunning facade:

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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…

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And the numerous half-shells dotting the front. I also love that headressed figure on the right:

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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.

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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).

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Picture CC CinemaTreasures.org

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?

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Picture CC CinemaTreasures.org

With fingers crossed, I returned the following Sunday. And, just going into the entranceway, I was taken aback.

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Already, the entire place was dripping with exactly the sort of intricate design I was hoping to find still intact.

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The original ticket booth – can you imagine buying a movie ticket here??

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The ceiling – note the beautiful hanging lanterns, all of which were still working:

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The floor tiles, and not a single one missing. All a very good sign…

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Then I stepped into the entrance galley, and realized I had stumbled on something very special.

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Right off, the towering arched ceiling sets the tone, literally the total polar opposite of what a movie-going experience is like today. If I don’t stop myself, I’ll use the word “glorious” too much, but that’s exactly what I kept thinking.

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Note how the wooden ticket line banisters are still in place:

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In a 1990 article, the NY Times designed this as “more Persian than anything else, a riot of scupltured, gilded plaster screens and balconies.” The balconies line both walls…

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…and just look at the insane designwork below:

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Another fascinating feature – about one fifth of the lobby has been sectioned off by these elaborate columns:

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Guessing here, but perhaps this was the designated exit?

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Bringing me right back to Spain were the numerous colorful tiles set into the plaster:

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Today, religious messages are displayed where movie advertisements would have been:

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From there, I headed into the lobby proper, and the grandeur only intensified.

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Turning right into the central part of the lobby…

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…there was suddenly no question I was in a palace – movie or otherwise.

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The Loew’s Wonder Theatres were created in the late-1920s for movie-goers for whom midtown Manhattan wasn’t easily accessible. The Valencia was the first of the five to open on January 12, 1929.

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The Valencia was the work of architect John Eberson, who designed nearly 100 movie palaces around the world, most described as “atmospheric” for their over-the-top, exotic decor. Sadly, many are long gone, razed to make way for new development in an age where such a theater could house twenty screens instead of just one.

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The Valencia is largely considered to be the most elaborate of all his New York theaters.

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And it really is unbelievable just how much has been packed into every inch of space:

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One of my favorite elements of the lobby is the enormous fountain stationed right at the entrance, which all movie-goers would have to pass before entering the theater.

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Incredibly, it was working until just recently:

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Several more animals keep watch:

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The sort-of Spanish/sort-of Mexican wall decor:

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Even the air vents have flair:

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And then it was time to head into the theater…

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…which might as well have been a trip back to 1929.

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I’m not even sure the term “movie palace” does the Valencia justice. More like “movie cathedral.”

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Huge pan – click for full-size!

As the NY Times wrote in 1990, “the vast auditorium itself will make even the most jaded architectural pilgrim gasp, or even kneel.” I’m pretty sure I did both.

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Huge pan – Click for full-size!

What I absolutely love about the Valencia is how it puts the audience not in a movie theater, but rather in the center of a Spanish – or is that Mexican? – town.

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Fake foliage lines the edges of building facades covered in over-the-top ornamentation:

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You practically expect to look up and see someone watching the movie from one of the many faux balconies dotting the edges:

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Each side of the theater is different, giving you the sense of being a part of a movie set.

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The ceiling, meant to be the sky, is painted a dark blue with hints of cloud. And if you look really closely, you can just make out tiny pin-pricks of light. In other words, movie-goers would look up from the film and see a starry night sky overhead.

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By the mid-1970’s, audiences had shrunk and most of the fare at the Valencia were Blaxploitation films. The theater was donated to the Tabernacle of Prayer church, who has kept it in immaculate shape ever since. Said Reverend Johnnie Washington in 1977, “It has a beauty, an atmosphere that makes you feel you are at someplace sacred.”

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The theater holds 3,500, and there isn’t a bad seat in the house.

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Huge pan – click for full-size!

A few changes have been made over the years. The chandelier above is of course new. Also, a number of formerly nude statues above the altar seemed somewhat out of place for a house of worship.

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But, some angel wings and robes later, all is taken care of:

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In particular, I love the balconies running along the sides of the theater.

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While I highly doubt anyone actually ever watched movies from here…

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…they are actually accessible from the balcony level:

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Detail on the theater seats:

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The side aisles:

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Golden torches lighting the way:

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All the original aisle signs are still in place, including one denoting a Children Section, for when kids could be dropped off at the theater on weekends:

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A series of cut-outs offer the sky impression to those seated under the balcony:

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My favorite door in the theater…

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…featuring this flowering emblem:

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Golden metal ropes line the walls:

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Even for those holding the cheaper balcony tickets, the trip upstairs offered no lack of splendor:

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The mezzanine level:

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Check out the amazing railings:

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The entrance to the balcony – note the arched wooden doors:

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The men’s room entrance…

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…complete with sailing ship tiles.

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And finally, the women’s room entrance, with a different motif:

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A special thanks to Sister Forbes, who saw me taking pictures and insisted I take a private guided tour with her. From all the church patrons I spoke with, the Valencia is a treasured home treated with reverence, and it’s safe to say the old movie palace is in good hands.

-SCOUT

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221 comments

  1. This is, without a doubt, THE coolest thing you ever ever posted. Thank you very much for your page and posts.

    MS

  2. It’s so wonderful to see it was so well kept

  3. Absolutely stunning. Thank you for posting!

  4. These sorts of “spanish village” movie theaters must have been pretty popular in the 1920s – here in San Antonio we have the Majestic Theater built in 1929, which is now used as a performance space. But I have to confess that, while the Majestic is stunning, it does not hold a candle to the details preserved from the Valencia Movie Palace!

  5. Wow! that’s pretty much all I can say after looking at this. What an absolute gem of a building, thank goodness the church left it in it’s original state and clearly took amazing care of it. Thanks for sharing it Scout!

  6. Amazing! So wonderful that it never lost the grandeur–that it got passed on before it was ruined.

    (There is a far less grandiose theater-turned-tabernacle in Brooklyn–my husband always jokes “free box of popcorn with every sermon”)

  7. Awesome images, Nick! It wasn’t that long ago….early 1980s or late 1970s that the elevated ran down that stretch of Jamaica Avenue. There also used to be a large Gertz Department Store nearby. The churcah has done a spectacular job of maintaining this
    historic venue.

  8. Thank you so much for the discovery, it’s truly an amazing building and I’m really glad it’s still in use!

  9. So wonderful. I’m almost speechless. Now I want to make a trip to NYC to see this beautiful palace in person. Thanks for posting!

  10. This is fantastic. Thank you for posting these photos!

  11. We still have a Loews theatre on the Grand Concourse in the Bronx, off Fordham Road. The Paradise. It was divided up into 6 theatres for a while but its been restored to one now. Grand ballroom style staircases and hallways with Greco-Roman interior embellishment throughout, similar to the seating area in the pics above.

  12. holy freaking crap.

  13. I love seeing these old Loews theaters kept up or restored. The Akron Civic Theater in Akron, Ohio is another favorite. Thanks!

    http://www.akroncivic.com/site/page.php?id=420

  14. Stunning!

  15. This made me cry. For many reasons. Certainly, this is beautiful. I am thrilled that it is so well cared for. But the reason I teared up was that I grew up walking distance from this gem, and never once – NOT ONCE – thought to go inside. Thank you!

  16. Wow….that one deserves a movie script written just to use the location…..thanks!

  17. I’ve seen photos of a lot of ornate movie palaces and theaters. I’ve been in a few, like the Fox Detroit, the Rialto in Joliet, IL, the Chicago, the Uptown, the Aragon Ballroom, etc. NONE of them hold a candle to that place. Possibly the most ornate structure in the U.S. Certainly the most beautiful theater.

    • You mention the Fox in Detroit. I recall years ago going into a parking garage in Detroit and having the driver ask if the surroundings looked familiar. Sadly, it was a gutted Movie Palace with all of the original plaster work and the proscenium still in place across the ceiling and walls.

      • The former Michigan Theatre (1926, 4050 seats) was gutted for a 3 level parking structure. That is what you saw in Detroit. I know the owner, and have been in the closed off sections of the still half intact theatre. With a new roof on the building…. the ornate ceiling plasterwork still survives in the auditorium, although bathed in perpetual gloom, due to no cove lighting.

        The Detroit Fox Theatre, about 50% larger than the former Loew’s Valencia here is every bit as ornate as this gem. Only the architect of the Fox used less garish colors than Valencia’s architect, John Eberson did. His theatre is more colorful, that is true.

  18. Thanks for finding this rare gem and posting photos. I worked with several movie theatre chains in the 90s, one of them being the Loews chain. It allowed me to crawl around many cinemas across the U.S., but your find is without a doubt the best preserved. It always saddened me to find intricate art work spray painted a flat black. One could only imagine the majesty the piece one had in one of those glorious film houses of the 20s, 30s, or 40s. The earlier cinemas were also part of the Vaudeville circuits. Curious if you got behind or below the stage and if the original doors might have been there for the dressing rooms. Even in the cinemas blighted by “remodeling” the dressing room doors would often have signatures on them from the acts that used to perform there.

    • Yikes, you should visit the Fabulous Fox Theatre in St. Louis. It sat derelict for years until it was purchased and restored in the 80s. It is gorgeous. One of the same order of beautiful old movie palaces from the 20s. Wonderful acoustics for movies and music concerts. I had a job interview there years ago and the woman interviewing me showed me the backstage and dressing room areas with the signatures of hundreds of performers over the years. I’d like to say that seeing the autographs of George Burns or Judy Garland was the highlight, but nope. It was that of one of my cousins who was a member of a road company of “Phantom of the Opera.” I mentioned her to the lady and she asked when the show came through. I gave my best estimate and she told me to follow her. We climbed several floors and down winding hallways to a dressing room. “She should be here somewhere.” We both scanned all the signatures, climbing on chairs and craning our necks til I found her! I said I regretted not having a camera with me. This sweet lady promised to take a picture and e-mail it to me, and she did!

  19. Reminds me of the Tampa Theatre in Tampa, Florida. One of the neat details in the TT is that in the Ladies room there is a stall made for children that has a toilet very low to the ground. There is a cut out in the door in the shape of three cats so that a mom could watch her child. According to a female friend, the best part is standing in line and watching women walk into that stall and looking at how low the toilet was.

  20. The “atmospheric” style theaters were created and designed by Chicago based John Eberson. Austrian born Eberson designed over 150 such theaters all over America plus one in Paris called the Rex. Eberson first designed theaters that looked like European opera houses. Later, while on a visit to a bazaar, he spied a very ornate water pipe which gave him the inspiration to design theaters that apparently had no roof! A solid plaster dome painted dark blue with hundreds of twinkling lights and machines called Brenograph’s that project clouds lazily moving across the ceiling. All this above an auditorium surrounded by walls made to look like: a Spanish courtyard, or a n Italian villa, or an Egyptian garden etc. Others would try to imitate the Eberson magic but to no avail. Supreme examples today include: the Majestic in San Antonio TX, the Civic in Akron OH, the Paramount in Anderson IN, the Palace in Canton OH, the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago, the Avalon/New Regal in Chicago and the Tampa in Tampa FL.

  21. Janice Delaney Stearns

    Thank God (literally) that this church has enough funds for the upkeep of this place. It is truly eye-poppingly beautiful. The architecture I would call Moorish – Spanish and Arabian. That was a very popular style in the 20s for some reason. Wow! Thanks for finding this gem and sharing. I love ScoutingNY!!!

  22. wow! how beautiful x thank you for that x

  23. I saw “It’s Always Fair Weather” at the Valencia when it premiered in 1955.

  24. Tremendous find. Okay, I’ll use the word glorious. Seeing the lobby / entrances – I go right to doubling India or the like. After seeing this, it makes it more embarrassing to walk into any building with Plex in it.
    The big question: is the church open to filming? Anything been shot there?
    Thanks for the post. Sharing.

  25. Like Lynda, I used to walk past this church when I was a kid, when we went shopping. I always wanted to see the inside. Thank you so much for all the photos, it’s more amazing than I could have imagined!

  26. This is spectacular! It reminds me a lot of the Civic in Auckland, New Zealand, which was an atmospheric cinema built in 1929 with anlargely Indian motif. It was restored as a live theatre venue owned by the city in the late ’90s, but still also shows films occasionally. You may recognise it as the theatre King Kong tears up in the Peter Jackson remake: http://www.civictheatre.co.nz/web/index.html

  27. I remember in Astoria there was an Awesome Loews theater that had a similar design. I think it was leveled to build some condos.
    I am glad this Theater still exists although I wish you could see movies there.

  28. Absolutely mind-blowing. HOW have we never heard of this utterly incredible place before?? So thankful that you found this and posted here. I’m looking at these photographs and just not believing what I am seeing. How terrific that the owners of this yes, glorious, place have recognized the value of the beauty and are preserving it. I MUST see this place!!

  29. Last movie I saw here was The Counterfeit Traitor with William Holden & Lilli Palmer sometime in the early ’60s. And sadly, I don’t remember this spectacular interior at all (well I was probably 12 or so). Soon afterward, the neighborhood began to deteriorate & was in quite a terrible state until it began to improve in the late ’90s. Kudos to this congregation for their flawless maintenance.

  30. My high school graduation was held at the Valencia, 50 1/2 years ago! I had no idea it still stood, much less preserved in this pristine condition. It appears to be in even better shape than it was in 1962!

  31. This is an incredible find. The artistic beauty is truly precious. I was particularly struck at how well kept this property by the church. kudoos that you are honoring the talent and toil of our forefathers by uncovering this history

  32. Impressive, especially considering I just passed through Jamaica station 5 minutes ago. It feet away! Gorgeous example of architecture. Jamaica isn’t exactly known as a place of beauty. Nice to see that it does exist.

  33. The interior of this theatre is very similar to main house of Hearst Castle in San Simieon, CA.

  34. I guess the operative word here is, WOW. The era that this gorgeous theatre was built in was a much different one from the one we live in. Kudos to the people who preserved this building that speaks to us from the past. Ya done good with this one.

  35. You’ve posted some (literally) jaw-droppingly amazing articles in the past, but THIS one surpasses them all … I LOVE that you provide so many pictures !

    It’s also great to read that at least one exquisite landmark is being well cared for.

    Thanks so much !

  36. Posted at another time of year, I would say this is another April fools hoax of yours. That degree of preservation is extraordinary. I can’t imagine that a purveyor of Blaxploitation films would have the money or incentive to maintain such details. If this be the case, then regardless of your religious leanings, Reverend Washington and his congregation ought be praised. They must have undertaken some degree of restoration in addition to the preservation.

  37. Stunning! I hope there is some kind of a landmark law protecting it from New York’s greedy, tasteless realtors—just in case the church experiences a serious financial backslide. Perhaps they could open up to guided tours on one of the weekdays, the money going into an upkeep fund.

  38. I wish you could have also gone backstage!

  39. Many thanks for posting such detailed documentation of this glorious space. Kudos to the church for maintaining it so beautifully.

    I remember passing the theater many times when shopping in Jamaica with my mom when I was a kid, but I don’t think I was ever lucky enough to see a movie there.

    However, we did have an atmospheric theater in Flushing, the RKO Keith at the intersection of Main Street and Northern Boulevard. It also had a lobby fountain, a Spanish village motif and sky ceiling in the auditorium, etc.

    Alas, it has not survived intact and only the lobby remains. A long-delayed development project for the site is supposed to restore and preserve it. Let’s hope.

    • Moshe, I wish I could remember details of the theatres my parents took me to when i was a kid. I remember the Adventures of Sinbad scaring the crap out of me. I have a feeling it was the RKO Keith but it was tough seeing the ceiling when hiding behind the seats in case the Cyclops comes after you.

  40. Saw my first movie there in the mid-50s and have never forgotten the magic of the starry sky, the lanterns and balconies…

  41. I have passed this theater a few times. I always wanted to know what it looked like inside but I had no clue it would be so beautiful!!!

  42. You are one hell of a photographer. These pictures are stunning!

  43. About three years ago, our company installed the pipe organ which was originally in this theatre in the Balboa Theatre in downtown San Diego, CA. This theatre was built in 1924, but only seats about half of what the Valencia does. It sounds wonderful in there. It is a “Wonder Morton” built by the Robert Morton Organ Company. They built five special organs for the Loew’s Wonder chain. It is so nice to see the Loew’s Valenica in such good shape! What a wonderful building. If you would like more info about the organ, go to http://www.thebalboatheatre.org, and if you want to see a picture of the organ how it looks now, go to http://www.flickr.com/photos/10267731@N07/855424791/

  44. according to my parents, there was also a goldfish pond in the theater lobby.

  45. Check out the St. George Theatre on Staten Island. Somewhat along the same line. Also built in 1929. Just a 5 minute walk from the ferry.

  46. Just a note from a Queens native on the children’s sections — the bane of my youth! Although you started paying adult price at age 11, you had to sit in the children’s section until you were 16. They were patrolled by sour old Matrons, much hated by all

  47. Oh my goodness. That is absolutely SUMPTUOUS.

    The church deserves some kind of civic medal, or the key to the city, for preserving that interior. Bless them!

  48. Absolutely magnificent. Heartening to see that an old movie palace like the Valencia still exists and in such fantastic shape! Wonder if the Taberbacle ever thought about screening old movies there, say, restored prints of THE TEN COMMANDMENTS or BEN-HUR. Another restored palace it reminds me of which hasn’t been mentioned in these comments is the Arlington in Santa Barbara, CA. Designers there were two local SB architects, Edwards & Plunkett, in the Spanish mission style, complete with adobe Spanish villas lining the walls and twinkling night sky above the auditorium. Not nearly as ornate as the Valencia though and seats (only!) 2000.

  49. This is my home church as a child. I have do many memories of The Tabernacle and the great leadership of this church!

  50. Wow. Just wow. This is why I read this blog!!

  51. So so incredible. Nick – this could be your first book. Or a documentary. Your curiosity knows no bounds and as you know, the payoff can be incredible. Never stop seeking and thanks for sharing so others can vicariously experience these places.

  52. WOW! I had the pleasure to be a part of the Tabernacle of Prayer church when we moved in that building in the early 80’s. I was a member of the Crusade Choir at the time. These pictures are breath taking! Every sunday the place was packed with people giving God praise. During our Pentecostal days, all churches merged from all over came together to celebrate! Oh were those the days! After looking at these pictures, I didnt realize how ‘beautiful’ it was. I visited there after over 25 yrs after moving to MS and I was in awe! I literally ‘frozed’ in my tracks!! Everything still looked the same! Boy, how do I wish I could turn back time and go back to those days. Missed you something awful APOSTLE JOHNNY LEE WASHINGTON!!

  53. As a Projectionist in Local 306 I never worked at the Valencia. Loew’s did request me to work at the Loew’s State on broadway. I went there to check it out, and decided to stay with the high paying East Side theaters like the Loew’s Tower East, Beekman, Coronet, and Columbia 1.

    The Valencia is a beautiful movie theater from another era that was built about the same time as the Loew’s Fairmount. It had 2,568 seats.

    My dad and his partners ran the Fairmount Theater from 1960—1969. It was a beautiful theater.
    A few years later they bought the Deluxe theater on Tremont and Belmont, a block away which actually had a goldfish pond in the lobby between the 2 bathrooms! Dad was a great manager and showman. They turned both theaters into money makers.
    It’s was heyday of great films, 1960-1969.
    What actors! What directors! What films!
    There were movie theaters all over the Bronx—
    the RKO Chester, the Vogue, the Loew’s Elsmere, the Fairmount, the Deluxe, the Crotona, the Art, the Devon, the Dover, the Ascot, the Loew’s Paradise, the RKO Fordham, the Valentine, the David Marcus, the Palace, the Earl, The Ogden, and many others.
    –Alan M

  54. As a kid, I was a member of this amazing congregation and even participated in renovating a few chairs before we officially opened our doors for worship on Sunday, October 16, 1977. After eagerly trying to find a house of worship to house a rapidly growing congregation in Brooklyn, Apostle Johnnie L. Washington had received divine news that the Lowe’s Theater in Jamaica was willing to donate this closed facility to the Tabernacle of Prayer Church. Finally, when the papers were signed, the building was given to the church for only $1.00 and the rest is history. The church was then under the leadership of the late Apostle Johnnie L. Washington who was a true leader and visionary of beauty. He literally poured thousands of dollars into the restoration budget of this behemoth project to restore it back to its original glory. He also wanted to create an atmosphere of worship for everyone to enjoy. I guess the star of David and the angel in the art decor was a divine indication that this building would be more than just a movie house, but a church. Apostle Johnnie Washington passed away in april of 1986. It is now under the auspices of Bishop Ronnie Davis, a great man of God who has done an incredible job keeping this delightful masterpiece intact. It was such an honor viewing these absolutely amazing photos which has captures the essence of a truly amazing era through the lens of a camera. May God bless you, and thank you for sharing my beautiful childhood memories with the world.

  55. Our church is a precious jewel every way you look at it the beauty is reflected!

  56. And here in SE Michigan/Detroit our once gorgeous Michigan Theatre is now a 3 story parking garage:

    http://weburbanist.com/2011/01/01/detroits-michigan-theater-the-worlds-most-beautiful-parking-lot/

  57. This reminds me of the Tampa Theater, an art deco building that has been wonderfully restored and still plays movies. http://tampatheatre.org/

  58. Words do not do this place justice, which is why your pictures are so important, Scout! The church is to be commended for retaining the beauty. What a lot of work it must be. Thanks for a wonderful post!

  59. This was the movie theater we always went to from the time I was 5 till my adult years. The koi pond was where we would meet up with friends to then find seats together inside this wonderful movie palace. The starry sky was the only distraction to the wonderful movies shown there. The bathrooms were also glorious, and they had a special section with toilets just for the little kids. I re-did my own bathroom here with a dark marble vanity top that brought back memories of the Valencia. The Tabernacle Church did a great job in preserving the decor and I am glad to see that they toned down the paint colors from the bright turquoise that they first painted the place. I am glad that I can share this with my children and grandchildren as there will never be movie theaters like this again. Thanks for the wonderful pictures, it is just sad that there aren’t any of when the theater was actually open, the ones shown here are other theaters that looked similar.

  60. When I was a kid, I spent many Saturday afternoons in this amazing movie palace. I remember it being very old, very dark and mysterious inside. Thanks so much for the wonderful post and photos of this architectural gem.

  61. Magnificent and thank you… Weren’t there giant goldfish in the fountains where you could drop a coin into? Anyway, thanks again

  62. Whenever I was a kid I would talk to my grandma about growing up in Jamaica Queens. She told me on many occasions, fondly, how she used to go to the Valencia on dates and how beautiful it was. I just sent her this link, she’ll be happy to know it still looks just like it did then.
    Thanks for sharing this!

  63. NICE! There’s an Eberson theater (THE STATE THEATRE) in Kalamazoo, Michigan, too, where I grew up. It’s MUCH smaller than this one, though. It’s great to see one in such great shape–thanks for the article. Efforts have been made to keep the Kalamazoo State Theater alive and running. It’s mostly a live performance venue at this point, but when I was a kid, it was a movie theater. A completely MAGICAL place to go to see films, especially as a little squirt. Did you know that most of the Ebersons were also equipped with cloud machines? Yep. Up by the projection rooms, there were large kleig-light-like cannisters that projected moving clouds across the darkened ceiling while the movies played, just to enhance the atmospheric qualities of the theater. From what I hear, most of the cloud machines are dead at this point. 🙁

  64. What are good hours to stop by on Sunday? I need to see this place!

  65. Holy moly. I think I just got religion again. Amazing!

  66. beautiful. I was glad I got ip to the Paradise to see a concert the weekend before Hurricane Sandy blew through. Otherwise I have no reason to go up that way – and that was right around the time Creflo Dollar signed a lease to turn the Paradise into a Mega-Church. Beautiful theater, though I think from these pics, the Valencia may be even more impressive. Maybe I should make the trip to these other theaters…

  67. I remember as a kid — I’m 60 years old now — going to see more than a few movies at the wonderful Valencia Theater. Although the particular titles escape me now, one does stick out: Around The World In 80 Days. What a great setting to see such a special motion picture! I also remember that the lobby had a big pond filled with large goldfish (or, possibly, koi), something to amuse myself and my friends on the way into that movie palace. It is great to see that it has been preserved so magnificently!

  68. Start showing motion pictures again and give us all something to believe in. Stunning photos.

  69. Many high school graduations were held in this theater, too. I am so glad to see it is still as breathtaking as it was when I was growing up.

  70. You’ve posted some doozies over the years (and every posting has been interesting) but this is just spectacular! Man! I’d love to have been able to see some terrific old movies there in its heyday.

  71. I went to this movie theatre with my cousin way back in the early 50’s. It was always dark inside, so these color photos of the interior look fantastic to me. What I remember is the starry sky and the magical feeling of watching a movie under that sky. It was wonderful. Thanks for showing these, and I’d like to thank the church for maintaining the theatre’s beauty.

  72. Wow, and wow.

    and Landmarks did not require this preservation? Good for them!

  73. AMAZING. I am planning a visit in the very near future!

  74. That theater is in my old neighborhood. I used to take my kids there on Saturday mornings to see children’s plays. I also saw “Psycho” there in June, 1964, but I have to admit that I never realized how beautiful the theater is.

  75. This is a Godsend that this Beautiful Movie Theatre has been preserved. It is only fitting that it is now a house of God.

  76. I am currently reading a book called Night Circus. Those pictures fit my image of what some of the circus must look like – full of magic and beauty. Im amazed that such a place has been preserved, and some day soon I must come and see it. Thank you for your great blog, letting us know all of these hidden treasures in your grand city.

  77. Annmarie Baffa Teresco

    Thank you so much for bringing back many fond memories. My Mom and I used to take the bus from Richmond Hill to Jamaica to shop and go to movies there. I loved to look at those tiny lights in the ceiling and the beautiful village there!

  78. That building looks really awesome, can’t imagine how much time they put in it :O

  79. Back in 1972 many local school graduations were held at the Valencia. I was lucky enough to graduate from Junior High in such opulence. At the age of 11 it was the only time I was ever inside and I still remember what you are showing here. The theater was later made a protected monument by the city in one of any government’s better decisions.

  80. I went to this theater as a child. As other grand movie houses like the fabulous RKO Keith’s in Flushing bit the dust, I thought that had happened to the Valencia as well. It is grand to see it again; I remember it well. The idea, I believe was for it to be a Moorish Palace, similar to the Alhambra. Well, it sure felt like it. I loved to look at the top of the massive screen, where there was something that looked like a balcony, and wonder if anyone ever walked there. The lights were a very intense ultramarine blue that bled to dark sky over this balcony, and my imagination was always taken there. And I saw both Ben Hur and the Ten Commandments there.

  81. In addition to showing movies, the theater was rented to schools for their graduation functions. My junior high school commencement was held here in 1968.

    The last movie I saw here was “2001: A Space Odyssey”, also in 1968. It was an epic film and the Valencia was a grand theater in which to enjoy it.

  82. Since 5 years old till my adult years when the theater closed, I enjoyed many movies here. we would go to see The Ten Commandments every Spring for years. In my teen years, we would meet our friends in front of the Koi pond before going to find seats together to enjoy the double features that played there. The bathrooms were just as beautiful, there were special toilets for the little kids, just their size. When I re-did my bathroom, I chose dark marble that was the same as the tops of the sinks in the theater,brings back memories every day. There was nothing like staring up at the star filled sky and feeling you were in the courtyard of a beautiful palace while sitting in those red velvet seats that had ashtrays in the arm rests. So sad that we can never experience those days again!

  83. If you ever get a chance to come out west to Marion, Ohio you will find another John Eberson theatre in amazing shape in such a small town. It’s about half the size of the one you visited here but many of the details are the same. It has been kept in amazing shape and is still used for it’s original purpose.

  84. How wonderful to see such visual delights! I volunteered for some years at the Loews Jersey, in Jersey City – one of the sister “Wonder Theatres” to this beautiful example. All five are in various states of restoration/preservation/decay, and it’s such a joy to see that this one is thriving. Thanks so much for this entry – I love all of your writings, but this was a special, personal treat.

  85. No problem getting bums on seats at that church !

  86. *GASP* At some point my jaw dropped. Stunning! You are a beautiful storyteller, and I was totally living in that theater through this entire post. Thank you for sharing.

  87. It reminds me greatly of one in my own city, The Auckland Civic, which is done up in the Arabian Nights theme, it’s used now as both a stage and movie theatre, and I love going into it. Esspecially since they re-did the night sky to reflect our Southern skies.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Auckland_Civic_Theatre

  88. WOW indeed !- Can non-religious types visit this amazing palace ? I ask because am visiting NYC in the Summer !If yes, details/contacts pls !

  89. This place looks amazing! I’m from the Netherlands, and one dy hope to go to America, I will definitely visit this place. Also; it is funny, because in my country it is churches that change into movietheaters, clubs etcetera. With you it is the other way around. I really like that they look after the place so well, but wouldn’t mind watching a movie there:).

  90. Well done, Ian! Speaking of the Loew’s Kings, did I ever tell you about Christian Blackwood’s documentary “Memoirs of a Movie Palace”? It was shown at Telluride in about 1980, but seems to have vanished from sight since. He visited us at MOV circa 1990.

  91. I assume you know about United Palace up in Washington Heights that used to be Loews 175th Street. Now it’s a church and concert venue, at least as of this year. Seems like the website domain has expired, so I don’t know what’s happening there now.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Palace_Theater

  92. I wish the church I was forced to attend as a child had as many wonders to contemplate during the long boring services. Thanks for giving this palace the royal treatment and not skimping on the number of photos.

  93. Thank you for sharing this! I’m really glad to know this wonderful place is in good hands. Look forward to visiting there soon!

  94. I hold no brief for the Tabernacle of Prayer Church, but if their sensitivity and guardianship of this amazing building is any indication, they must be good, good, people. Our thanks must go to them for looking after a piece of heritage that they could easily have ruined, even destroyed, as so many other majetic movie palaces were in the seventies and eighties.

  95. Spwcracular!
    Do you have an idea if all the work, carvings and fabrications were done in NYC? Id imagine so, just hard not to think of how labo

  96. Spwcracular!
    Do you have an idea if all the work, carvings and fabrications were done in NYC? Id imagine so, just hard not to think of how labour intensive the work of building such a palace was!

  97. As much as I typically dislike the excess in church design, I admit that is pretty goddamn classy.

  98. Audrey Burtrum-Stanley

    GOD is everywhere but is especially well noted in marvelous places like this! If the movie-house could not keep operating, how splendid that it was donated and ‘saved for GOD’! This is MY KIND OF PLACE – both as a former place of fun as well as today’s serious worship. Everything – from the texture of the wall’s plaster to the ceiling’s twinkle lights – I love it all. The added angel-wings and delicate robes on the statues was perfection for the church-transformation! If this decor is ‘too much’ then I yearn for ‘more, more, more’! When we go to NYC again, we WILL be at this church on Sunday morn!

  99. My mother and aunt lived down the street from this theatre..My mom is now deceased but we spoke with my aunt who said they went there often growing up

  100. I grew up in Queens Village in the 1950s and 1960s and–when we got old enough, my friends and I would go shopping in Jamaica around 165th Street. Going to that theater was a “special experience”, we had other theaters, closer to home, but I especially remember graduating from Martin Van Buren High School there–we had about 1600 students, etc. at that time in 1965! It was a truly inspiring setting, I am glad that it has been preserved so lovingly as a church and not turned into a multiplex, bowling alley or auto supply store. It should be given historic landmark status, if it has not been already! I especially remember the starry sky above!