The Q13 Movie Theater Bus Route Memorial

I grew up in Queens in the 1970’s in the northern part of Bayside known as Bay Terrace. There was no way to watch movies at home–no HBO, Netflix, YouTube. We didn’t have huge multiplex theaters; it was still the era of the small town movie house. I was too young to drive, but the local city bus route, the Q13 route which ran from Fort Totten to Flushing, could get me to them. On the route lay five separate distinct movie theaters. For a few dollars, I could see a film and at the same time get away from my parents for a few hours. It was a win-win if I could find the right movie at the right time at the right place.

The nearest theater to me, the Bay Terrace, was in walking distance. It was a fine enough theater, but it wasn’t my favorite for various reasons. I was too young to realize it at the time, but looking back, one of the reasons may have been the theater’s odd design. Outside was a large white brick wall overlaid with yellow stripes that was certainly unique but not particularly modern or classic. Whoever designed it must have loved yellow or gold.  The doors were lined with gold, the carpeting was yellow, the walls were yellow and white, and gold. The balcony, instead of being laid over the main seating section like most theaters, went further back up and away from the screen, so its seats were very far away. All that said, maybe the real reason I didn’t love the Bay Terrace is that it was just a little too close to my home. With other theaters just a bus ride away why not take advantage of seeing what they had to offer and put a little distance between me and my parents.

The Bayside Theater at 39th Avenue and Bell Boulevard was less than a mile south of the Bay Terrace, and it was a traditional old style theater. It was built in the 20’s (like almost every theater on the Q13 route other than Bay Terrace). But unlike the Bay Terrace, it felt like a movie theater should. The inside was red and velvety, and a small balcony sat over the main seating (the way a balcony should). For many years, the Bayside played cult films like the “Rocky Horror Picture Show” and “Pink Floyd The Wall” at midnight on the weekends.

It wasn’t as easy to figure out movie start times, and as a kid it was hard to remember what they were even after you read them. The newspaper was vital to determine where to go and when to get going. Luckily my parents usually got one delivered.  We never checked reviews; I think we didn’t even know what reviews were yet. Movies with the biggest and most attractive ad in the paper “just had” to be good anyway, and the movie playing in the most theaters was usually the one to see. Newsday had a separate index of theaters showings and times. If for any reason there was a delay for a bus or if I had to wait on a slow friend, the plan to see a particular movie could be ruined. However, the next theater on the route offered what at the time was a unique solution, four different movies starting at four different times.

A movie house with four theaters by today’s standards pales, but in the 70’s, one theater with that many showings was quite special. If you missed one movie there was sure to be another starting soon. The Quartet was actually a $750,000 renovation of an old theater, the 1920’s single screen Roosevelt. None of us knew or cared what it had been before it was the Quartet, we just knew what it was then, and it looked and felt exciting. Big red numbers one through four represented each theater on the marquee, big black numbers one through four could be seen everywhere inside, literally leading you to your showing. The Quartet was fun, but it wasn’t in always happening downtown Flushing like the last two theaters on the route, the Keiths and the Prospect.

The Prospect on Main Street was a little like the Bayside. Nice, but nothing outstanding, it was an old style downtown theater.  The Prospect had already been turned into two screens by this time. If nothing else it gave me a couple more movie showings and times. The RKO Keith’s, a few blocks to the north where Main Street meets Northern Boulevard, was a theater that stood in a league all its own. During its heyday in the 1920’s and 30’s, it had featured vaudeville and other live shows. Forty years later, it still felt elegant. The lobby had a three-story high domed ceiling, surrounded by wide circular staircases leading up to the balcony. The twilight blue dome could be seen both inside the lobby and in the seating area. The column work was finely detailed throughout. It almost felt that it was beneath the Keith’s standards to just be showing movies instead of live shows.

Part of the trip, in addition to the theaters, regardless of where we went, was the surrounding businesses near each theater. The best Chinese food in northern Queens sat only a few feet from the Keiths’ at Lum’s. Gertz and Alexanders were right on Roosevelt Avenue by the Prospect Theater on Main Street. Right under the Quartet marquee stood Mike’s comic cards store. Little King restaurant was right by the Bayside and Baskin Robbins 31 flavors stood right next to the Bay Terrace.

Movie theaters changed by the 1990’s.  New multi theater houses opened up everywhere and the local town theaters suddenly seemed outdated. Some, like the Bayside, were sliced into four screens, but sadly it only seemed to delay its closure for a short time. By 2000, every one of the five Q13 route theaters on the route had shut down. The Bay Terrace was converted into an Applebee’s, as a sixplex opened at the other end of the shopping center. The gaudy white and yellow bricks painted over with a more muted burgundy. The Bayside vanished into storefront and offices. The Quartet’s four showings, unique in the 70’s, had become less than standard for theaters that now had ten and fifteen showings. The Quartet closed and is now a supermarket. There is virtually no sign of what was once the Prospect on crowded Main Street.

One of a kind in its best days, The Keith’s has also had a unique story after closure as well. Despite various attempts to turn it into shopping and housing complexes, every  company that has bought the property have run into one financial problem or another (sometimes ending in criminal prosecution) and nobody has been able to put up a new construction. The now landmarked lobby will have to be included into whatever is eventually constructed. Hopefully someone will be able to open the doors that have been closed for over 30 years. Historian and photographer Chris Kellberg has continued to photograph its beautiful interior work. He advocates for the renovation and reopening of the theater, citing other locales where the same has been achieved. Chris’s facebook group is here https://www.facebook.com/groups/220242754654213/

If you were to ride entire the Q13 today, you would not see a movie theater on the route. The adventure of seeing a movie along it is no longer possible. In their own way, these outings helped me gain my independence; so today’s youngsters in Queens will have to achieve that in other ways. I eventually worked up to using the bus to go to see the Mets in Flushing and the Knicks and Rangers in Manhattan. Thankfully those options remain today. The days of the movie theaters and the Q13 route, however, are now only a memory.

The Theaters Then and Now

 

 

 

 

 

 

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5 Comments

  1. Robert

     /  September 27, 2018

    Born in 59 in Flushing so as i read could see all… We experienced the last days of what was a fine place to grow up. What is the most tragic for me was watching the systematic destruction of Flushings remarkable homes and Parsons planted trees. I have been collecting period photos of all of it for 30 years now. Keep up the good work.

    Reply
  2. Jim Reilly

     /  September 27, 2018

    I remember being thrown out of the Prospect for throwing popcorn at kids before the showing of the Vikings with Tony Curtis

    Reply
  3. David Schwartz

     /  September 27, 2018

    Thanks for the trip down memory lane.
    Our theater of choice was the Utopia. It was a short walk across Union Tpke. and the across 188 St. to the theater.
    25 cents on Sat. morning for 25 cartoons and a movie.
    The theater was also the #2 site for Rosh Hashanna and Yom Kippor Services for Hillcrest Jewish Center which was in a small building around the corner from the present site, I believe it was on Kent St.
    After the movie, $.25 cents got one a Kosher hot dog with mustard and sauerkraut at Charney’s Deli. on the corner of 188 st and Union Tpke. Still the best I remember, although I remember less and less these days.
    We also used The Utopia Lanes as home lanes for the Jamaica High school bowling team.
    We held the record for a 806 game bowled by four high school kids.I don’t know if it was ever beatenI havent thought about this in years.
    David

    Reply
  4. Ronald LeDrew

     /  September 27, 2018

    I to lived in Queens, Baisley to be exact. I would take the Q6 bus into Jamaica (5c) to see a movie for 85c. Those were the days.

    Reply
  5. Audrey Averna

     /  September 28, 2018

    I was on the Q16/Q15 lines, but I remember. I remember them all. Last movie I saw at the Prospect was Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing.” We’d take the Q16 down to the last stop, Main Street/Flushing, which let out on Roosevelt Ave across from Alexander’s (which was a Gertz at one point, I believe) and from there we only had to walk around the corner and short way up Main to the theater. Last movie at the Keith’s was “The Hitcher.” Sat in the balcony, naturally. LOVED the Van Gogh Starry Night-ish lobby ceiling. I think the theater closed for good shortly after that. There was a beautiful fountain in the lobby from the Hollywood hey days, as well, but in my time I don’t recall ever seeing water in it. Last movie I remember seeing at Bayside was “Platoon.” That wasn’t a great theater for movie-viewing, but it was a great location. When the movie let out, we’d call our parents from the payphone on the corner to come pick us up. While we waited, we could stand on the street and watch nighttime Bell Blvd come alive, and feel at least a little bit a part of it. There was a cool dance club a few doors down from that theater. When I was older (but still underage) I’d go there on Wednesday nights to dance to New Wave music and get sick on Zima or Long Island Iced Teas. It was down in the basement of the building and going down there had a cool, almost speak-easy feel to it. Last movie I remember seeing at the Quartet was John Carpenter’s “Prince of Darkness.” My friend worked at there for awhile (starting at the concession stand and “working his way up” to ticket-taker – ha!) and he’d sneak us in at the side door for free when he could. I walked home from the theater after that movie, and boy, we were we spooked! My older brother, who knew we were coming back from seeing a scary movie that night, of course waited in the dark to jump out at us as we came through the door. He got us so good, I think our feet actually left the floor. Good times, good times. I still have some family over in North Flushing, and when I visit with them, it breaks my heart to look around and see what’s happened to the old ‘hood. My aunt/uncle are part of the Broadway-Flushing Homeowners Assoc, and they’re constantly fighting against over-development, the tearing down of the beautiful old early 20C homes for these hideous multi-family brick boxes (just how many Korean churches does 1 neighborhood need, anyway? tax evaders!) but it feels like an unwinnable battle. I know everyone feels that way about where they grew up once they get OLD, looking back on how things were, lamenting how things have changed, and complaining that nothing is the way it used to be. But I truly think that Flushing has gone down the proverbial crapper (no pun intended). Thanks for the memories, and the nostalgia.

    Reply

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