08/13/13 11:00am

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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

Kevin Walsh is the webmaster of Forgotten New York. A book of the same name is also available.

 

06/11/13 11:00am

st.nicholas

With its blue dome, the St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church at 14-65 Clintonville Street is one of several surprising architectural gems among the tract housing of Whitestone. At first glance, it appears to be two large Quonset huts making an “X” shape, topped out by an onion dome in one of the purest shades of blue imaginable.

As for Clintonville Street, it is is so named because it runs through a section of Whitestone that used to be named for DeWitt Clinton (1769-1828), an early New York State polymath who held every important political office save Vice President or President. He served in the New York State Assembly and as a State Senator (1798-1802; 1806-1811); as U.S. Senator from New York (1802-1803); as a three-term New York City mayor (1803-1815); as New York State Governor (1817-1822); and indeed ran unsuccessfully for U.S. President as a Federalist against incumbent President James Madison in 1812. Among other accomplishments, his influence was elemental in getting the Erie Canal constructed.

DeWitt Clinton lived in two of Queens residences, particularly during his time as mayor. His mansion in Maspeth stood on today’s 58th Street north of 56th Road until it burned down in 1933. He also summered in Whitestone — the part of it close to the East River at about 151st street, 7th Avenue and Leggett Place. (more…)

11/07/12 11:00am

Queens isn’t often recognized for its architecture, but we do have plenty of fascinating buildings. Actually, it’s fitting that some of the most noteworthy architecture in the borough reflects our incredible cultural and religious diversity. Here’s a look at some of the churches, temples, and other houses of worship that punctuate our neighborhoods with beauty.

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Image source: Wikimedia Commons

In Whitestone, the futuristic St. Nicholas Orthodox Church (GMAP) is all curves: there’s a metallic barrel roof, oval windows and accents, and a bulbous, bright blue onion dome. The Russian Orthodox house of worship was designed by Sergey Padukow of New Jersey and built in 1968, and continues to catch our attention with its retro spaceship design. (more…)