Midway Theatre 70th Anniversary Benefits Alzheimer's
by Michael Perlman
Oct 03, 2012 | 4653 views | 0 0 comments | 48 48 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Forest Hills’ legendary Midway Theatre celebrated its 70th anniversary on the evening of September 24, and neighborhood residents and theater aficionados had something additional to take pride in.

With surround sound and on a state-of-the-art digital screen, movie lovers watched Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 classic Rear Window, starring James Stewart and Grace Kelly. Proceeds from the $10 admission benefited the Alzheimer’s Association (NYC Chapter).

The Midway opened on September 24, 1942, as a 1,933-seat single screen theater. In 1998, the Midway became known as the United Artists Midway Stadium 9, featuring 9 screens and 1,444 seats, which increased its film options and economic productivity.

Due to its square footage, it minimized the likelihood of the Midway meeting the fate of other shuttered historic single-screen theaters, such as the Trylon and Forest Hills.

At the 70th anniversary event, Candace Douglas, a 30-year-old Rego Park resident, represented the Alzheimer’s Association. She frequently saw movies with her friends at the Midway.

“Forest Hills has always been a hotbed of entertainment and dining, and the Midway is at the center of it all,” she said. “Forest Hills has new developments, but we respect our cultural history too.”

Prior to the Rear Window screening, Douglas explained, “Alzheimer’s is a degenerative and progressive brain disease, which has no cure. All funding raised at this event will benefit research and provide free public programs and services.

“Over 5.4 million U.S. residents have Alzheimer’s, and greater than 250,000 live in New York City,” she added. “In 40 years, 1.1 million New Yorkers will either have the disease or be a caregiver to someone who does.”

Rear Window was shown in a 225-seat theater, in which 170 seats were filled. Steve Melnick, board member of the Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce, said nearly $2,000 raised for the Alzheimer's Association. Free snack bags were distributed.

“Raffles for local eateries and Hitchcock DVDs added to the fun of a rare classic movie night in Forest Hills,” said Melnick. “When Regal Entertainment approached the Chamber to partner, we didn't hesitate a second. We chose the Alzheimer’s Association since we attended their Forest Park Carousel fundraiser, and we all have family members afflicted with this devastating disease.”

Forest Hills resident Susan Gurevich, a 28 year-old photographer, felt Rear Window was a great choice. Besides being a fan of horror films such as Hitchcock’s Psycho, she shared another reason to attend. She

“My grandma had Alzheimer’s, so the money was for a good cause,” she said. “It's pretty cool that the Midway has stayed, especially since many older businesses have closed nearby.”

“There are so many memories, my rolodex is failing me,” said Gurevich's boyfried, 29-year-old freelance writer Michael Brody. “As someone who grew up in Forest Hills, to see something celebrating Forest Hills and Hitchcock was a really nice experience. Yes, someone designed this theater, but to sit down and think of 70 years of history is amazing.”

It was a first-time visit for Jason Antos, a 31 year-old Queens historian and author.

“There aren’t that many historic theaters remaining in Queens, so the Midway joins a select few in operation,” he said. “The first movie I saw at this historic theater is a classic film, and this is the perfect way of inauguration.”

Forest Hills resident and preservationist Steve Goodman explained the evening as having “a small town feeling you don’t usually get,” and added, “If the Midway can capture that on a regular basis, it would be great.”

Leslie Brown, President of the Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce echoed the sentiments of many attendees who felt periodic classic film nights at the Midway should be a mainstay. She went further and said,

“I would love to close off 71st Road, and show classic films outside during the summer,” she said. She described the event as “a milestone for our community, which testifies to the fact that Forest Hills is a great neighborhood steeped in history and tradition.”

“Like many of Forest Hills structures such as the Ridgewood Savings Bank, the theater has become an architectural classic,” Brown added, “and we are lucky it has been preserved on the outside and the lobby is intact, so we can see to a degree what grand theaters of the past looked like.”

The Midway was designed by Scotland-native Thomas White Lamb (1871-1942), who is recognized by historians as “America’s foremost theater architect.” The Midway was dedicated to the courageous Americans in the Pacific island outpost, Midway Island, and named after WWII’s “Battle of Midway.”

The Midway was Lamb’s last theater, and one of his few in the Art Moderne style. In midst of construction, Lamb passed away in 1942, and architect S. Charles Lee saw it to fruition. Lamb designed over 300 U.S. theaters including the RKO Keith’s Flushing Theatre and the Ridgewood Theatre, as well as some European theaters.

The façade features a curtain-like accordion above the marquee, a backlit vertical beacon reading “Midway” in neon, and curved corners with streamlined bands. The oval inner lobby features a 30-ft ceiling with domes and South Beach colors. A whimsical winding staircase leads to the mezzanine with its defining picture window providing natural light.

“I’m blessed to be his great-grandson,” stated Thomas Andrew Lamb of Kinderhook, NY. “Lamb lived the American dream, and understood it was within him to create that. Regardless of one’s social status, he created community spaces where beauty is valued; an indication of a culture. Everyone could walk into his theaters and feel like they belong, which is what he intuitively knew. Great architecture lifts the mind and spirit. The lives that spent time at the Midway are worth honoring.”

The Midway Theatre’s 70th anniversary fundraiser signifies how historic theaters can continue to show films, while catering to the current needs of New York City communities by hosting a multitude of such beneficial events.

“The Midway is a legendary community institution,” said Melnick. “It was and still is a mecca for Forest Hills and central Queens movie-goers. It attracts many people of different cultures. In turn, they support local commerce by frequenting shops and restaurants.”
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