By the Greater Astoria Historical Society
On Feb. 2, 1931, the Loews Triboro Theatre opened. One of the last giant Loews palaces to be built in the city, this classic Thomas Lamb theater welcomed visitors with a classic Aztec Revival exterior.
This corner was already famous in Astoria since 1912, when it was home to Hellman’s Deli, the birthplace of Hellman’s Mayonnaise. In 1929, Richard Hellman decided to get out of the deli business and move his mayonnaise operation to larger quarters. He sold the coveted corner site to Loews Theatres.
The onset of the Great Depression delayed construction, but when building actually started in the summer of 1930, it took only seven months to finish, three months ahead of schedule. The cost, including acquiring the land, construction and furnishing amounted to around $2 million.
The Triboro’s exterior was Aztec, the lobby described as either French or Italian Renaissance, and the auditorium of clouds and stars had “a Spanish atmospheric,” according to one newspaper account at the time. The Triboro’s great pipe organ came from Loews Canal Theatre in Manhattan.
The theater seated 3,290 and had an unusual feature: two elevators that could take as many as 55 patrons at a time from the ground floor to the mezzanine and balcony levels. It delighted audiences from Queens. The Triboro dropped vaudeville on Dec. 1, 1932, after less than 18 months.
Sadly, although the Triboro was one of the last to be built, it was also one of the first to go. Although the city Landmarks Preservation Commission had already voted to designate it a landmark, and more than 8,000 residents signed petitions to save it, few members of the public showed up at the city Board of Estimate meeting.
The board voted against preserving it a landmark. Its quick demolition in 1974 continues to leave a bad taste in the community’s mouth.
The GAHS is open to the public Saturdays noon to 4 p.m. at Quinn’s Gallery, 4th Floor, 35âˆ’20 Broadway in Long Island City. New additional hours are Wednesday 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Visit our online gift shop.
For more information, call 718âˆ’278âˆ’0700 or visit www.astorialic.org.