Monday, February 4, 2013

Queen of the Grand Cinemas

A friend's recent Facebook post brought this gorgeous preserved movie theatre in Queens to my attention, and set me off on a nostalgic train of thought.  I love seeing these ornate old theatres, and I love it when they are kept in their original state, or as near to it as possible without violating current safety regulations.  There was one not far from where I currently live, the Egyptian, that I've heard was formerly gloriously decorated in the style of its name.  It's been converted into a church, too, but sadly unlike the Valencia, it was completely gutted and now isn't even a very attractive house of worship seen from the exterior.

I grew up in a small town in Texas.  It wasn't large enough to rate a theatre like the Valencia.  But it did have a movie palace, originally the only one besides the drive-in.  It was called the Granada, built in 1929, when my mother was 4 years old.  The exterior was done in a Spanish theme, with Moorish arches.  I remember that the ceiling had midnight blue velvet covering (or at least I thought it was velvet) with twinkle lights to make it resemble a night sky.  There were little alcoves in the walls made to look like fountains with shells inserts.  It didn't have the miniature cityscape of the Valencia, but it did have scenic murals on the walls with a similar idea. 

There was a balcony that was like a cherished secret place to visit, since I was never permitted to sit there separately from my parents.  The ticket booth wasn't terribly ornate, but it was a similar kiosk shape, and I think there was tile work on the lobby floor.  I recall being fascinated that the restrooms, which were on the balcony level, allowed one to look out through the Moorish arched windows over the marquee.  I loved the black and white tiles on the floor.

In the 1970s when multiplexes began to appear everywhere, a twin theatre came to town.  It was a boring shoebox and I liked it only for the films it showed, not for its complete lack of architectural style.  At about the same time new owners acquired the Granada.  It wasn't a big theatre, but they split it in two and stripped out all of its interior period decor.  It became a second, smaller shoebox, with no more personality than the interloper on the outskirts of town.  I was only in my late teens when that happened, but I remember being sad even then.  I've always liked old things.

I remember going to see movies like Mary Poppins, Born Free, and The Poseidon Adventure (the original version) at that theatre.  I remember having to get a notarized birth certificate so the theatre staff wouldn't try to charge me an adult ticket price when I was 11.  I remember getting lost on the way back to my seat when I was six, and standing anxiously in the dark trying to recognize my mother's silhouette by the light of the movie onscreen.  I remember cartoons before the movie, and an intermission that never seemed to be long enough to get me back to my seat before the lights went down. I think the last movie I ever saw there may have been Cocoon in 1985, the last movie I saw in a theatre with my mother.

I've just found some links indicating that someone may be trying to restore it.  If you're interested, here are some photos.  They don't show much of the old decor, but it seems that a few relics were left behind by the remodel in the '70s. 

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