175-02 Jamaica Avenue,
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Architects: Eugene DeRosa
Styles: French Renaissance
Previous Names: Capitol Theatre, Cort Theatre, Cort Jamaica Theatre, Werba's Jamaica Theatre
This theatre had several names, starting as the Capitol Theatre during construction in 1926-27 by a real estate developer that hoped to make it a magnet for extending the Jamaica Avenue shopping area beyond its then eastern border of 166th Street in the Jamaica section of Queens. The site was at 175th Street, so the builders had a tough time finding a tenant for the Capitol Theatre, which was designed by Eugene DeRosa and fully equipped to handle any type of movie or stage attraction.
Broadway producer and theatre owner John Cort finally came through with an offer to turn it into a playhouse. Re-named the Cort Theatre, it first opened on August 22nd, 1927, with the American stage premiere of the Broadway-bound “Mr. What’s His Name”, starring Lynne Overman. The plays ran for six days, with Sundays featuring vaudeville. To avoid confusion with the Cort Theatre in Manhattan, the house was soon re-named the Cort Jamaica Theatre. After a year of low attendance, Cort sold his lease to Louis Werba, who launched it as Werba’s Jamaica Theatre on September 18th, 1928, but still with the same policy of stage plays that were either before or after their Broadway runs.
Three months later, the Shuberts moved into Jamaica with a new playhouse at 165th Street, across the street from a huge movie palace still under construction as Loew’s Valencia Theatre. Werba’s Jamaica Theatre held on into 1929, but finally closed soon after the Wall Street crash. The theatre remained dark until September 1, 1930, when it re-opened as the Carlton Theatre, under the management of the Brandt circuit. By that time, the Shubert Jamaica Theatre had folded, so Brandt tried to return plays to the Carlton Theatre, but without suceess.
The Carlton Theatre was switched to double feature movies, playing several weeks behind Jamaica’s three leaders– the Valencia Theatre, Merrick Theatre and Alden Theatre (ex-Shubert). In 1939, the year of the New York World’s Fair, Brandt tried presenting vaudeville at the Carlton Theatre, but flopped. The Carlton Theatre returned to subsequent-run movies. In 1944, Brandt sold the Carlton Theatre to the Prudential Circuit, which finally closed it in the late-1950’s. The Carlton Theatre was converted into a catering hall called Regency House, which survived for about twenty years until the area became too unsafe to visit.
While sitting vacant, the building’s interior was almost entirely destroyed in a fire. It was finally demolished in 2002.
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