Saturday, November 16, 2013

Midway Theatre Merits Preservation - Not Endangerment

If you are concerned about the future of the historic Midway Theatre, an Art Deco gem, please email Rego-Forest Preservation Council at   

Forest Hills’ Midway Theatre turned 70 on September 24, 2012, and theater aficionados truly had something to reminisce about while looking ahead in pride. Nearly a year later, The Real Deal reported that the theater at 108-22 Queens Boulevard, which is operated by United Artists and home to notable businesses such as Banter Irish Bar and Kitchen, Gloria Pizza, and Liberty Travel, was sold for $20.5 million. Now the community is questioning whether the historic theater and small businesses will be preserved, or undergo redevelopment for condos.

    The Midway Theatre was acquired by real estate investors, which include Eric Roth of Brick Realty Capital, Lloyd Goldman of BLDG Management, and Brian Ezratty of Eastern Consolidated. The theater is a 48,400 square-foot property which has development rights of 65,000 square feet.

    In an interview, Roth would not reveal the specifics of their future plans, but cited “investment purposes” as their vision. He told The Real Deal, “We were quite fortunate to have been presented with an off-market opportunity to acquire a trophy asset of this kind. While it generates ample cash flow, there is a tremendous opportunity for future growth as the longer term leases expire.”

    With the onset of DVDs, Movies On Demand, and soaring real estate values, nearby historic theaters faced closures and insensitive alterations in just beyond a decade. That included the Trylon Theater, the Forest Hills Theatre, the Drake, and the Elmwood. Other than the Midway, remaining theaters are the 5-screen Cinemart on Metropolitan Avenue and the twin Brandon Cinemas (The Continental) on Austin Street. Further multiplexed in 1998, the Midway holds the distinction of offering 9 screens, 1,933 seats, first-run features, and state-of-the-art digital projection systems. This prime entertainment venue is on a major thoroughfare in the heart of Forest Hills.   

    Opened in 1942, the Midway Theatre is far from the cliché of brick and mortar. It plays a pivotal role in Forest Hills’ cultural and cinematic history. The Midway was dedicated to the courageous Americans in the Pacific Islands’ outpost, Midway Island, and named after WWII’s “Battle of Midway.” First dates, couples, families, and friends typically make a day of catching a movie and shopping or dining blocks away.

   The Midway Theatre bears architectural significance. Scotland-native Thomas White Lamb (1871-1942) is often accredited as “America’s foremost theater architect.” He designed over 300 U.S. theaters including the RKO Keith’s Flushing Theatre, Ridgewood Theatre, and some European theaters. Forest Hills is fortunate to have Lamb’s last theater creation, which is one of his few in the Art Moderne style.

   The stone façade features a curved corner with a streamlined band conveying harmony. A curtain-like accordion exists above the marquee, with an accentuated vertical beacon reading “Midway” in neon lights, which adds a Jazz Age touch.

    The grand foyer is oval and features a 30-ft ceiling with domes and a South Beach color scheme. A whimsical winding staircase leads to the mezzanine promenade with its defining picture window which enables an abundance of natural light. One may visualize how movie-going was fashionable in the 1940s, and how a woman’s dress would conform to the sweeping staircase.

    Tom A. Lamb, great-grandson of Architect Thomas W. Lamb, said the Midway’s history grants the community a feeling of permanence and belonging. “My great-grandfather understood that while he was creating a fantasy for the masses, the buildings and the people that used them were very real, and they had to operate within the modern context,” said Lamb. He then explained, “In order to ensure that the community grows along with the times, we must make sure that developers provide the financial impetus that ensures a vital and lively community, but we must also provide reasonable limits on what can be done within our communities.

    Karen Noonan, immediate past president of the Theatre Historical Society explained, “Thomas Lamb created some of America's most notable theaters. For generations, this theater has not only been a community gathering place for entertainment, but for news and group support during the war years. This classic should be zealously protected and preserved.

   The Midway Theatre hosts community functions. At the 70th anniversary celebration, 170 patrons saw Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” (1954). Steve Melnick, Treasurer of the Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce worked with Regal Entertainment, and nearly $2,000 was raised for the Alzheimer’s Association (NYC Chapter). He plans to co-sponsor more classic movie fundraisers.

    “The Midway attracts moviegoers from all over Queens, and supports hundreds of local businesses. Many restaurants even run dinner and movie promotions,” said Melnick. When asked about redevelopment, he responded, “Keep the screens and incorporate space for a multi-purpose performance center with dance, music, and school events that supports our community. A void would have severe economic ramifications.”

   Neighborhood resident Anne Duterme echoed similar sentiment. “Forest Hills has a lot of character. Rather than destroying the Midway Theatre and building more uninspired condos, thinking outside of the box and multi-purposing this property for independent film festivals and plays is an opportunity to enrich our community.”
   Duterme referenced two large residential projects under construction. “With our schools experiencing overcrowding, a third residential project will only exacerbate things, and is not going to contribute to our community’s needs,” she said.

   The newcomer restaurant, Banter Irish Bar and Kitchen, at the Midway was an instant attraction. This authentic family-operated restaurant offers specialties such as beef and Guinness pie, traditional Irish stew, and Craft Beer. On September 14th, Banter commemorated 6 months with a customer appreciation party featuring a live band. “We haven’t met our new landlords, but presume they will be amenable to us,” said owner Michael Mansfield.

  “The Midway is a Queens cornerstone, and we hope the new owners continue its operation,” said Seth Bornstein, Executive Director of the Queens Economic Development Corporation. Lamb added, “I pray the new owners have a love for community and history that informs their actions, and that residents value their history enough to make their voices heard.”

This is Michael Perlman's column in the Forest Hills Times/Queens Ledger: 

Midway Theatre photos on flickr: 

A lighting spectacular on Queens Boulevard, accomplished by the the streamlined vertical beacon and the accordion Art Moderne facade

Just beyond the sweeping 40s era staircase, a definitive picture window provides natural light into the Art Moderne lobby
The whimsical curves of the Art Moderne lobby

The Midway Theatre is often the subject of the Downtown Forest Hills Tour, led by Historian Jeff Gottlieb, President of Central Queens Historical Association

1 comment:

  1. Theres zero chance that wont be a condo someday. Hopefully the tenants have long leases