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Taken in 1948
Judging from title on marquee, this was taken 1949.
Hey Ed and Techman – Those shots of the booth ARE in the Utopia.
Techman, do you have any old pictures of the theater, inside or out? I’d really love to see them, if that’s at all possible. Thanks!
Hey!! I just remembered that, in the very early 1990’s, while I was still an usher there, the owner agreed to let a rap artist named Prince Rakeem (who is now called “RZA”) film a music video there. So I went to YouTube.com just now to see if it’s posted there… and it is!!
You can see the Utopia Theater marquee all lit up at the end of the video.. and shots of the lobby at the beginning. You can see the ticket window in the lobby, with the actual prices of the time (which we still had in effect at the time the theater closed down). There are shots in the auditorium (Utopia #2) as well. The footage with the white staircase and the big lit-up stage are not in the theater.
In the 1990’s, the Utopia was not open for business during weekday afternoons (we only had two evening shows on weekdays). So Prince Rakeem and his crew filmed this during a Wednesday afternoon before we opened, and promised to be done before 6:30PM (which they were). I remember they made a mess and the manager was mad at the owner for letting them film this here. But I’m happy, now, that I get to see the theater in this video. I hope you all enjoy seeing it, too (I will reserve comment about the song).
Here’s the link: http://youtube.com/watch?v=bDT8OOkS_dc
If that link doesn’t work, go to YouTube.com and do a search for “Prince Rakeem.” The name of the video is “Oooh We Love You Rakeem.” For those of you unfamiliar w/ YouTube, note that, all the way to the bottom right of the little video screen, there is a button you can press to expand the video to full-screen.
No, that’s not confusing. I think it’s cool that so much is being brought up by the Utopia Theater! True, Utopia is an area or neighborhood. It is, in fact, listed on the bus map of Queens (the one put out by the M.T.A.). I remember being happy when I first saw it on the map. I always thought I had been living in Flushing; “Utopia” sounded so much prettier to me.
Oh, by the way, I have no argument about the zip code. It was always 11366 during my lifetime, at least. Also, our outgoing message on the theater’s answering maching said, exactly, “This is a recording from the Utopia Twin Theaters, located at Union Turnpike and 188th St., Flushing.” Even when I took over as manager, and was the one to make these recordings of our showtime schedule, I continued to say that exact opening phrase because I had a lot of respect for the former manager and tried to do everything as she had done it. But I’m not sure if I knew, at that time, that we were in a section of Queens called Utopia. I, too, grew up thinking I was living in Flushing. But it was just my mailing address. Is this too much information??
There’s so much controversy, I know, about the location, what it’s called, etc. Actually, if you look at a map of Queens, the area known as “Flushing” is nowhere near the theater. It is very far from the theater. A detailed map of Queens, showing the names of the different zones, places the Utopia theater in a section called “Utopia.” The post office that is located a couple of blocks from where the Utopia Theater was is called the “Utopia Station.” The theater was not in Jamaica Estates…. Jamaica Estates begins around the block from the theater’s footprint.
Many different sections of Queens will have a “mailing address” of Flushing… even though they’re not close to Flushing. It has something to do with the way the post office was set up in Queens way back when. But Flushing is literally miles away from 187-02 Union Turnpike.
I’m sure someone will argue, but I honestly think I’m correct. Either way, it’s nice to remember the theater.
Thank you so much for posting those links, Warren. This made my day… to see my beloved theater in its hayday. I worked there from ‘90 until the day it closed in '95. I get so sentimental about this place and my days there. And I still sometimes dream that I’m still working there. Thanks so much for this rare picture.
As soon as the “Add Photo” feature is working on this website, I will add a nice color photo of the Utopia Theater marquee, all lit up with its red, green, white, pink, and lavendar neon (taken in the 50s or 60s). I can’t find any photographs of this theater on the internet. The only picture I can find on the internet is the PAINTING of it which Jay Herson commissioned (mentioned in his comment above). I hope they fix this “add photo” feature!
I WORKED THERE! To this day, this was the most impactful and enjoyable job I’ve ever had. I started as an usher in August of 1990, and was there on its last day (Sunday March 13, 1995) as its manager. The building was torn down and replaced with a drugstore later that year. The first thing that comes to mind when I think of my 5 years there is the staff; we were like a big family (about 15 of us). When I started there in 1990, it was managed by a woman named Linda (whose last name I’ll leave out). She had been its manager since approx. 1982, and left when she moved to New Jersey. I took over for her in 1994, after having been an usher, then the usher / maintenance person, then assistant manager / cashier. I guess “manager” was the next logical step, and I had a pretty good understanding of the place at that point. Linda was a perfectionist in every way, and taught me to be the same way. Although only in her late 20s, she was like a mother figure to the ushers and concession staff. She instilled discipline in us, but was able to laugh and be a regular co-worker too. For example, she would repeatedly examine the popcorn bin at the end of the night, and if there was even one streak on the glass, the candy girl had to get out that Windex and make it perfect. That theater was CLEAN!! She also made the ushers hold doors for people who were carrying popcorn and soda, and to really help people (particularly older customers) find seats. The admission price in 1995 was $6.50 for adults and $3.50 for children & seniors. I loved the theater itself, and took care of it as if it were my own home. It was difficult because the owner wouldn’t give any money for significant upkeep. (It was independently-owned). My biggest frustration was that he didn’t keep up with the leaking roof and the beautiful neon marquee. I sometimes took things into my own hands: I remember polishing the brass poster showcases outside the theater, and even climbing up to roof with a bucket of tar to seal the leaks. The theater opened in 1941, after having its seats installed on Dec. 7 of that year (Pearl Harbor day). Much of its history has already been described in previous entries, so I won’t repeat. I still have one of the little “programs” that were mentioned above, with coming attractions being advertised on it. It had been hanging on the wall in the manager’s office (as part of the theater’s history; we did not still print these by the time I was working there) the whole time I was there, so I took it before the theater closed. We had old admission signs showing 75 cent admission price, old uniforms from the decades before, and boxes of old posters. I still have all the keys to the building, which was turned into a Rite Aid pharmacy. I still have payroll paperwork for my staff, as well as the glass Men’s Room sign, showing the silhouette of a man sitting in a lounge chair reading a paper, that would light up over the door of the restroom. I have an old film reel (which I found it the office one day) which was part of the policy trailer from decades before I worked there. It’s video footage of the marquee (when it all worked) with the words “coming soon” and “feature presentation.” This reel was obviously spliced between coming attractions way back when. I don’t know when the footage was shot. Contrary to a previous entry, the fireplace in the lounge was not metal; it was brick, painted white. We had numerous candelabras illuminating the auditoriums and also in the lounge. We didn’t have extra butter for the popcorn, but the popcorn didn’t need it. Many people came in on a regular basis only for the popcorn! I loved the brass / glass ticket window. It was obviously an original feature of the theater. It had curved glass windows that opened on either side of it, with a small lightbulb inside to shine on the schedules and theater policies (on those red felt boards that held white plastic letters & numbers, which would be the titles and showtimes, as well as policies such as “No Bills Larger than $20 accepted”). The outer lobby walls were made of white and blue glass. At the far end of the outer lobby were blue doors that stretched along the whole width of the lobby, and they had cut-glass mirrors fitted into them to match the other mirrors in the lobby. And we had those old movie posters showing the Marx Brothers and Jimmy Dean, etc. Anyway, I could go on and on with stories, but I don’t want to go overboard. I did make a home movie for myself 2 days before they were to close the doors forever. So I can put it in my VCR from time to time and revisit Utopia. If you have any questions about the theater, feel free to email me at