Midway Theatre: A Tribute To 75 Years
by Michael Perlman
Oct 11, 2017 | 4481 views | 0 0 comments | 61 61 recommendations | email to a friend | print
An Art Moderne marquee that reads “Midway” offers hope for the future of one of the borough’s longest operating movie houses, which turned 75 on September 24.

With the loss of nearby theaters, including the Forest Hills, Continental, Trylon, and Drake, Midway Theatre still offers a classic movie-going experience at 108-22 Queens Boulevard in the heart of the business district.

“I equate the Midway with quality and class, and it will always be synonymous with Forest Hills and Rego Park,” said Arthur Schoenfeld. “This is where I saw perhaps the greatest movie of all time, ‘The Godfather,’ along with classics such as ‘The French Connection,’ ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,’ and ‘Cabaret.’”

The Midway was named in honor of the Battle of Midway of World War II, and Midway Island was once depicted in a map of the atolls etched on the glass side of the box office.

“The Battle of Midway was our Dunkirk 75 years ago, the first Pacific battle we won in a war that seemed unlikely for us to emerge victorious,” said Paul Noble, who lived in Forest Hills from 1935 to 1957. “Many Forest Hills old-timers remember the patriotic nature of going to the Midway, with its newsreels, military dramas, and the support of our troops at home and abroad.”

Richard Delaney was only six when the Midway opened, but he will always remember his mother's recollections.

“It was like a Hollywood premiere, complete with a black-tie event, bright lights, and media coverage,” he said. “It was grand Art Deco theater with elegance and the very epitome of modern design.”

Scotland native Thomas White Lamb was considered “America’s foremost theater architect.” He designed over 300 U.S. theaters, and his last creation and only one of a few in Art Moderne style was the Midway, working in conjunction with architect S. Charles Lee.

Signature features include a curtain-like accordion, a curved corner, and streamlined bands. The South Beach-colored grand foyer features a 30-foot ceiling with domes and a whimsical sweeping staircase that leads to a large picture window, enabling natural light en route to the mezzanine.

“It is an honor to manage a building with the prestige and history of the Midway,” said Esperanza Polanco, who has been general manager of the theater since 2012. “The building is a community staple and we all have stories shared with us by our guests, from first dates to wedding proposals.

“There is an immense sense of pride whenever I see that iconic marquee towering over Queens Boulevard,” she said. “It withstands the test of time.”

Recent upgrades include the conversion from celluloid film to digital.

“We are excited that the Midway will be converting to the Regal king-size recliners,” Polanco said. “Construction began last month and is expected to be completed in March. The façade and the inner lobby will remain the same and showcase its history to moviegoers who step through our doors.”

Local resident Alan Sherman is hoping for a milestone anniversary celebration.

“I would love to see a reenactment of the first day, with admission and concession prices from 1942 and veterans from the Battle of Midway,” he said. “These theaters opened a window of imagination, hope, and dreams, but as our country's demographics change, people will not know the magic of the movies. Preservation of all movie theaters is vital to the preservation of 20th century American culture.”

Tom Quinn attended his first movie at the Midway, “Mary Poppins.”

“During the height of the popularity of ‘I Love Lucy,’ my mother met Lucille Ball out front, doing what would today be called a meet-and-greet,” he said.

“This is where I had my first date with my husband in 1978,” said Susan Weiss. “Friends introduced us at The Wine Gallery, and after dinner we went to see ‘Superman.’”

Screenwriter and author Rick Allen Leider remembers a Saturday matinee with ten cartoons, travelogue, horror flick, and free popcorn and soda, as well as watching cartoons from the Kids Gallery on the right side of the theater’s back 15 rows in a single-screen auditorium.

“The big deal in the late 1950s was when they began carrying ice cream bon-bons,” Leider said. “It was also one of the first theaters to have real butter to squirt on the popcorn, and you ate with greasy fingers all through the film.”

Bert Silverstein was a regular from the late 1950s to 1970, and remembers two major movie events.

“For ‘Cinderella,’ all patrons got a plastic glass slipper on the way out,” he said. “For ‘The House on the Haunted Hill,’ we got an electric shock in our seats and a skeleton slid down from the upper right corner of the screen towards the audience as it appeared in the movie.”

“My sisters took me to see ‘Up In Arms’ starring Danny Kaye,” said Sari Pavell Masin, who attended her first film 73 years ago at age three. “In the late 1940s, my oldest sister would sneak me into the balcony seats, the smoking section, where children weren't allowed.”

“It was the best time of our lives,” said Mark Briner. “Around 1959, my mother would take me and my best friend Gordon Jacobs to spend the morning watching cartoons and two movies, and at least one was a western starring Hoot Gibson. She would do her shopping, give us a dollar to buy popcorn and a drink, and there never was a fear of anything happening to us.”
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