valencia theater, one of the Loews Wonder Theaters
Photo by James and Karla Murray

In an era before television and with radio just a novelty, Americans could spend upwards of five hours or more in inside a movie theater and the most exciting ones were the Loew’s Wonder Theatres, veritable palaces of entertainment. Audience spent their time inside listening to a live orchestra oveture, watching vaudeville acts, and finally the film. One of the fun facts gleaned from an episode of the Office of NYCMedia‘s Blueprint series is that historian and author Anthony W. Robins is actually the grandson of Chicago movie pioneer, A.J. Balaban. Here are the five New York City Loew’s Wonder theaters covered in the above episode:

5.  Loew’s Kings Theatre, Brooklyn

Brooklyn Kings Theatre-Loews-NYCEDC Restoration-Untapped Cities Behind the Scenes NYC Tour
Photo by Matt Lambros/After the Final Curtain

Newly restored by the NYCEDC and renamed the Brooklyn King’s Theatre, the Loew’s Kings Theatre was another of the five “Wonder Theaters” opened in the early 20th century. As one of the classic ‘movie palaces,’ it operated from 1929 to 1977. It reopened, completely renovated, in February of 2015 and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2012. When it first opened, it showed a mixture of feature films and live vaudeville performances. On its opening night, Kings Theatre showed the silent film Evangelinewith a special appearance by the film’s star, Delores Del Rio. Almost 90 years later, Diana Ross appeared at the theater’s reopening earlier this year.

4. Loew’s Valencia Theatre, Queens

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Loew’s Valencia Theater, which opened its doors on January 12, 1929, was the first of five flagship “Wonder” theaters. See more photos of this opulent theater here.

3. Loew’s 175th Street Theater, United Palace

Loew's 175th Street Theatre or united palace theater III

Loew’s 175th Street Theatre opened in 1930 as the last of the five Loew’s Wonder Theaters. In 1969, the theater was saved from possible demolition by  Rev. Frederick J. Eikerenkoetter II (Reverend Ike) who transformed the theater into a church. The building, now known as the United Palace Theater, is still home to the Rev. Ike’s church and is also used as a performance venue. Read more about Upper Broadway’s forgotten movie theaters here.
On October 11th, 2015, take a tour of this opulent theater, described by The New York Times as a “delirious masterpiece” and a “feast” of ornamentation, led by Mike Fitelson Executive Director of the United Palace of Cultural Arts. Ticket also includes entry into the Women of the Fox Film Festival screening of Down Argentine Way, starring Betty Grable and Carmen Miranda:

2. Loew’s Paradise Theatre, Bronx

Loew's Paradise Theater grand concourse bronx

The Loew’s Paradise Theater was designed by John Eberson and opened on September 7, 1929. The Paradise’s auditorium was inspired by a 16th century Italian Baroque garden. See more architectural gems along the Bronx’s Grand Concourse.

1. Loew’s Jersey Theatre

Last year, it was reported that bids had come in to restore the Loew’s Jersey theatre in Jersey City, opened in 1929, that had been subdivided in the 1970s and closed by 1986. In 2009 it was designated a New Jersey Registered Historic Site. The Jersey Theatre also contains the Wonder Morton pipe organ, originally installed in the Bronx Paradise theater.

Next, take a full photo tour inside the Loew’s Valencia Theatre in Queens. Get in touch with the author @untappedmich.