In the 1920s, Loew’s built five Wonder Theaters: movie palaces that were, quite literally, palaces, bedecked with ornate architecture meant to awe, instill hope, and provide an escape from the depressing world outside. That was the aim of Marcus Loew, of the eponymous chain and the founder of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. One of these cinemas, the historic Leow’s Valencia Theatre in Queens, exists to this day—it just doesn’t show films anymore. A Pentecostal church, the Tabernacle of Prayer For All People, bought the then-abandoned 3,500-seattheater on Jamaica Avenue. The congregation donated $200,000 (about $758,303 in 2013 dollars) to restore the eclectic Spanish-Mexican-Moroccan interior to its original splendor.
It has used the theater ever since, and continues to maintain elaborate-theater savant John Eberson’s ridiculously detailed ornamentation. Notice the gilded lion carvings scattered throughout the hall? “Because we are Pentecostal, we had all sorts of religious reasons for it,” says Sister Forbes, the church’s pastoral secretary. “It’s just that Eberson was a good employee. What’s the symbol for MGM? A roaring lion.”