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Trylon Theatre

A movie theater with a World's Fair flair.

On December 26, 1939, Forest Hills’ booming population  welcomed the Trylon Theater at 98-81 Queens Blvd. Designed by New York's own architect Joseph Unger, it attracted movie-goers for six decades, with lines occasionally around the block. The marquee boasted classics including The Wizard of Oz and Gone With The Wind.

The small neighborhood theater conveyed great meaning for residents of Forest Hills and Queens, offering warmth, intimacy, and coziness. Charming architecture and “mom & pop” style service contributed to its grandeur.

The theater had cultural, architectural, and historical significance to the 1939 – 1940 World's Fair, which was held in Flushing Meadows Park, and categorized by the 700-ft spire Trylon (pyramid) and 180-ft Perisphere (globe) monuments. It was the “Theater of Tomorrow,” since the theme of the 1939 World’s Fair was the “World of Tomorrow,” where exhibits emphasized technological improvements. Social and cultural change led to new waves of immigrants.

The theater’s cost without ground was $100,000. The Trylon Theater epitomizes the Art Moderne style, featuring sleek and sophisticated lines and accents, and smooth curves to create images of “triumph with elegance.” Architects were more experimental, as they celebrated the victory of the machine age.

Patrons recognized a vertical glass block projection tower through a streamlined stone facade, with an elliptical marquee. This illuminated Queens Boulevard at night, symbolic to the Trylon and Perisphere monuments’ efficient use of light. Two reverse channel neon signs atop the marquee read “TRYLON.”

The entrance pavilion’s ticket booth memorialized the Trylon monument in black and white mosaics. The centerpiece of the entrance pavilion’s floor was terrazzo, bearing a 3D mirror image of the Trylon monument, complementary to that on the ticket booth.

Alongside was a colorful array of inlaid mosaic tiles in a classic chevron pattern. Streamlined mosaics with Deco accents were on the walls. Bulbs underneath the marquee contributed to a lighting spectacular, from the elliptical trim to its climatic angular halt at the ticket booth.

The standee area exhibited a mosaic Trylon fountain, with 4 Trylon monuments and back-lit glass block. Experimental architecture was the utilization of vertical lines in the auditorium, since the norm was horizontal lines aiding one’s eyes to the screen. Seating capacity was 600.

Alongside the proscenium, 2 under-lighted hand-painted cloth murals reflected the triumphant “World of Tomorrow” concept, depicting a projector on running nude figures, instruments, abstract shapes, and a cityscape. Grounded by Art Deco pilasters, it rejoiced motion picture technologies with freer themes.  

The Trylon was owned by B.K.R. Holding Corp, long-operated by Interboro Circuit, and later sold to Loews/Sony. With the advent of home theater and multiplexes, theaters have been either demolished or sometimes tastefully reused.

Sadly, after celebrating its 60th anniversary, the Trylon, one of the last single screen theaters, lost its lease in late December 1999. In 2006, the Trylon became a center for Russian Jewry, and despite a preservation movement, lost most significant architectural and historical features.

Maralyn April 19, 2011 at 11:32 PM
I live quite near the Trylon Movie Theater & do remember it very well. I was very disappointed when it closed; just another sign of something old being religated to the trash dump due to economics. As a young person, I remember seeing movies there without being accompanied by a parent. That was in the day when movies had "matrons" and the Trylon had a matron who we old considered very old. I guess because we were so young and she had gray hair and wore a uniform. We were all so scared of her; she was so strict about making noise or moving around. As we got a little older, we would go upstairs to watch the movie and sneak a smoke. Boy, we really throught we were so cool. Oh well, I guess nothing lasts forever.
Linda April 20, 2011 at 01:27 PM
I was distraught that there was no effort made to preserve this beautiful and historic piece of New York City history. It is now just an ugly, tasteless edifice because our political leaders were afraid to stand up to the powerful yet selfish immigrant bloc in our community. There was absolutely no reason the historical architectural integrity of the Trylon could not be maintained while transforming it into a community resource.
Gary Shebes April 20, 2011 at 02:08 PM
I agree with Linda. The people that took over the Trylon could not care less about the history of the theater. They probably had no idea about its history and if they did, could not care less, but why should we whine about the Trylon. There were big grand movie palaces all over the city that met there fate the same way. Its just not financially feasible to keep these theaters open . Across Queens Blvd. is the Midway. Was built about 1942 and was called the radio city of Queens. Sadly, It was converted into a multiplex about 10 years ago and has not been touched since then. Its a mess inside. Could use little makeover.
Julia April 20, 2011 at 03:14 PM
I remember the velvet curtain that rose just before the performance started...as a child I remember watching Moscow On The Hudson there. It is unfortunate that the beauty of the theatre is lost , but unfortunately, it is also a sign of the times that there needs to be money to preserve something. It is often cheaper to destroy and rebuild. It is tasteless, but it is a monument to how the neighborhood and its population has changed. Our political leaders werent afraid to stand up to the new population, but rather they answer to it. What is selfish is to think that the opinion of a minority can influence a new majority.
Marusya April 20, 2011 at 06:07 PM
I remember it very well, I lived right arround the corner of the movie theater. This place has a memory of my husbands first kiss in the movie theater while watching G.I.Jane back in summer of 1997. And as we returned back to N.Y. in 2008 I was seprised that this place turned into a Jewish Sinagouge. I do still live arround the area where we do visit the sinagouge sometimes during the major holidays however I don't think that this place has the right Rabbi. I did not know that this movie theater has been there for so long. That triangle space is not the same anymore as it was hit with fire due to the laundromat. I've heard that it might turn into another six story or higher appartment building. Oh well.
Linda April 20, 2011 at 07:43 PM
Not whining. The Trylon was not a grand movie palace. But the 1939 World's Fair was a major milestone in New York City history and with a little understanding and attention to the details of the community they are living in the new owners might have made improvements to the building while conserving the integrity and history of the edifice. But because they had no historical reference to it, and no one sought to educate them, they didn't care. This is the Macmansion mentality.
Michael Perlman April 23, 2011 at 10:17 PM
Beginning in 2004, there was a diligent cause to work with the new owners of the Trylon Theater, but to no avail. CM Melinda Katz was not a supporter of landmarking neighborhood-wide, and the Landmarks Preservation Commission backed off on the Trylon Theater. The coalition was comprised of the Committee To Save The Trylon Theater, Queens Historical Society, Modern Architecture Working Group, Art Deco Society of NY, & the Historic Districts Council, along with other supporters. This is more information on the background of the cause, thanks to Reaction Grid & the 1939 NY World's Fair website: http://www.1939nyworldsfair.com/worlds_fair/trylon_theater.htm
Richard Falk April 25, 2011 at 04:34 PM
I was an usher at the Trylon Theater in the early '60's and lived right around the corner in the Howard building next to the bank. My memories of the time I spent working at this theater are quite vivid; walking the long line of ticket holders on a Friday or Saturday night, taking tickets at the door, walking up and down the aisle looking for smokers, taking tickets from those looking for a seat in the balcony, cleaning up and locking up. It's a terrible shame that the Trylon could not have been spared such utter destruction (at least the marquee remains as a reminder to all). I'm thankful for the opportunity to view the old photos of the Trylon on the Rego-Forest Preservation Council web site (thank you, Michael Perlman); my only regret is that I didn't take any photos while I worked at the theater, but then again, I didn't take any photos of the 1964-65 World's Fair either and I worked there both years. Richie
Linda L May 04, 2011 at 09:20 PM
Thanks for posting this history Michael. As a child I lived in the apartment building directly across the street from the Trylon, The Carolina at 98-86 Queens Blvd. I viewed the theater every day out the living room window, and longed to be able to go there on my own. When I was nine my mother allowed me to cross Queens Blvd on my own and go to see Esther Williams in Neptune's Daughter. I will never forget that first time at the Trylon, watching one of my heros on the big screen. I went often after that, with my mother watching me cross the street from the living room window.
Jeff Raelson February 21, 2012 at 06:36 PM
My dad was the manager of the Trylon during the 50's and 60's. His name was Leo Raelson and was known by everyone in the neighborhood by his waxed moustache, cigar, and flower in his lapel. I grew up going to the movies and even ushered there. Very fond memories indeed!
Curmudgeon July 25, 2012 at 05:54 PM
Melinda Katz handed that theatre to the Bukharians on a silver platter. And, from their perspective, there was no need to save it. It wasn't their history they were destroying. Lots of people, myself among them, went to meetings and tried to speak out for Landmarking. The LPC quite viciously shut us down at every turn and refused to listen. So, please, do not say that no one tried. Lots of people did.
Joe Kohn March 23, 2013 at 11:25 PM
I was trying to remember the name of the Trylon the other day. I went on Google Maps/Street View and found the remnants of the theater. I believe I saw "Dr. No" with Sean Connery (the first James Bond movie) there while on a date in 1963.

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