Monday, January 19, 2015

Touchstone Palaces of My Youth

In yesterday's New York Times, Nathaniel Adams wrote about three surviving palatial movie theaters, "A Return to the Wonder Years." I visited one of the three cathedrals in March 2012 and wrote the piece below. On the bottom here is a link to more photos from a memorable night.

Touchstone palaces of my youth: old Yankee Stadium, the original 86th Street movie houses and in distant third place various churches. Something holy happened to me in each of these temples. Churches are still here, but don’t hold my attention like they used to. Old Yankee Stadium was buried under the horrible renovation after the 1973 season. The RKO and Loew’s theatres on East 86th Street were chopped up shortly after the 1960s. 

Yesterday, I took a trip on the PATH train to the classic Loew’s Jersey Theatre at Journal Square. This beauty opened in 1929 same year my Dad was born. It has 3100 seats, same size as the old 86th Street RKO.  Secret, don’t tell anybody: the Yorkville RKO’s Lounge downstairs under the lobby was huge with lots of comfy furniture, a giant black table and several paintings (huge one of "standing  in a boat not too smart" George Washington crossing the river). Matching the lounge's size, the urinals in the men’s room were mammoth. Top of one came up to my eight year old head. When we played hide and seek in the RKO after watching the movie twice we’d hide in the urinals.

The urinals are not over-sized at the Loew’s  Jersey but everything else about it made me feel like an explorer breaking through the bush and finding an ancient city.  From outside the theatre you barely get a sense of the majesty beyond the gold doors. All the luxurious decorations inside help you suspend your disbelief for a few hours and transport you to another world.  Last night, I went to the land of the “Dude.” The film was “The Big Lebowski.” I felt safe knowing, “the Dude abides.”  By the way, before the film we were entertained by an organ that rose from the orchestra pit. This was a blow my mind bonus since the Yorkville theatres had no live music when I was a boy.  You had to go to Radio City for that. Visit the Loew's Jersey if you can, it will not disappoint.

Thank you, Eric Vetter, for turning me on to this treasure, I had a blast. 

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Below are pictures from Loew’s Jersey Theatre and a link to a hundred other photographs.

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