The Jamaica Elevated ended service between 121st street and 168th Street in 1977, as a new subway was built to Parsons Boulevard-Archer Avenue that opened in 1988. Removing the dark tracks that shadowed the avenue, though, allowed the old Valencia Theater at 165-11 Jamaica Avenue, formerly best seen from an elevated platform, to be glimpsed by everyone.
The theatre, designed by John Eberson in a Baroque Spanish style, opened in 1929. It has an intricately fashioned brick and terra cotta façade designed to be viewed from up close: the platforms of the Jamaica el were a few feet away. You really have to linger for several minutes to take in all the cherub heads, seashells and other decorative elements. It was one of five Loews “Wonder Theatres” that opened in 1929 and 1930, with the others being the Kings in Flatbush, the Paradise on Grand Concourse in the Bronx, the Jersey in Jersey City, and the Loews 175th on Broadway in Washington Heights.
The Valencia seated nearly 3,600, featured goldfish pools in the lobby, wrought iron railings, an auditorium resembling a festive Spanish garden, air conditioning as early as the 1950s, and pipe organ music until 1965. As with many Loews theatres, clouds and twinkling stars were projected across the dark theatre ceiling. The theatre presented elaborate stage shows until 1935, when they were replaced by double features. The Valencia’s first feature film presented was MGM’s “White Shadows in the South Seas,” a semi-documentary filmed on location in Tahiti; the last, in 1977, was Columbia’s “The Greatest,” the first Muhammad Ali biopic, starring Ali himself along with Ernest Borgnine and Robert Duvall.
A rival theatre not nearly as ornate, the Alden, stood directly across the street; no trace remains of it. The Valencia is now a church, the Tabernacle of Prayer, which thankfully has retained most of Eberson’s detail inside and out.
To see the interior is really a treat — most of the lavish appointments and detail have been lovingly preserved by the church. Periodically, tours are given. Contact Sister Forbes at 718-657-4210 ext. 20 to find out if there’s a scheduled tour anytime soon.