My high-school class (Jamaica High, Queens, 1956) is pretty tight. We have held reunions in the old gym and the pizza parlor we used to frequent on Friday nights.
The other day some of us got together in the theater of our dreams, the great Valencia on Jamaica Avenue. Now it is the Tabernacle of Prayer for All People – as awesome as ever.
Our class leaders-for-life recently discovered that the Valencia still existed – 3500 seats surrounded by Spanish/Mexican artwork on the walls and ceiling.
The only difference, as Sister Forbes, our tour guide, told us, is that some of the statues have been clothed, for modesty’s sake.
This theater was one of five first-run emporiums in downtown Jamaica, once the shopping hub for Long Island in the 40’s and early ‘50’s. The Valencia had an orchestra pit and dressing rooms for live Vaudeville shows. My friends seemed to hear the throb of the massive organ.
We met on Jamaica Avenue, virtually unrecognizable in daylight. When we were young, the Jamaica El ended at 168th St., but it has long since been torn down. My parents met at the Long Island Press, which went down in 1977. The building is now a Home Depot.
We all remembered the glory of downtown Jamaica – the department stores, the cafeterias and clothing stores, but the fondest memories were of the Valencia. Secret smiles indicated great things had happened as James Stewart or Doris Day flickered on the screen. Perhaps the first cigarette in the balcony. Perhaps a first kiss in the dark.
The years faded away as we sat in the first couple of rows and listened to Sister Forbes, who told us how the Valencia was opened in January of 1929, designed by the grandiose Loew’s architect, John Eberson.
For a New York Times article about the turnaround, please see:
We all knew how movie theaters provided entertainment even during the Depression. And the glamour was there for us during the hope and security of post-war American, as we became old enough to go to the movies by ourselves.
For some reason, I could remember going to the Valencia only once – my parents took me to see South Pacific. I remember being out with them more than I remember the glory of the building. My friends supplied the awe and the nostalgia.
One of us remembered how a member of his group would hold their places in the ticket line during snowstorms – and how he would repair to an open upstairs room with a stove. Sister Forbes was impressed with his ingenuity.
Another of us remembered how one of his party would buy a ticket and then open a side door for his buddies. We didn’t tell Sister Forbes that, lest she cast us out of the tabernacle.
Jean White Grenning, our class president for life and captain of the cheerleaders, and Walter Schwartz, the editor of the school paper, recalled the victory rally for the 1955 New York City basketball champions from Jamaica, right there on the stage, as Jean Gollobin’s choir sang.
Sister Forbes told us how the Tabernacle was formed when the Valencia closed in 1977. The theater had been reduced to showing “black exploitation” films, she explained, and most of the African-American community wanted no part of that genre. The congregation was larger back in the day, she said. Nowadays around 300 members come to church on Sunday, but sometimes they hold regional services, and the old building rocks again.
The good part, she said, was that “things were built to last” in 1929. The congregation has surprisingly little maintenance and repair, she said -- a good thing, I sensed. The building looked great. The congregation does not rent out the building for secular music or other entertainment; we are Pentecostal, Sister Forbes explained. However, they do give tours for a donation, she said. Their number is 718-657-4210. They also welcome worshipers on Sunday -- but not cameras, she added.
After a tour of the lobby (some people think the building is gaudy, Sister Forbes said with a proud smile) we said good bye and returned to the bizarre daylight of modern-day Jamaica Avenue. We still expected the rumble of the El.
Then we headed toward lunch at a diner on what Walter Schwartz calls Re-Union Turnpike. Stanley Einbender, a star of the 1955-56 basketball team, drove us past Jamaica High, still gorgeous up on the hill.
I should add that New York City has cooked the books to come up with spurious excuses for phasing out Jamaica High itself. We are in mourning for a great city institution.
That glorious building will accommodate four boutique schools of various or changing description. I have no idea how the ambitious new minorities of Queens can possible navigate all these precious little creations to find a school they can attend.
Back then we had big schools, big theaters, big dreams. Our youth was reinforced by a visit to the Valencia, to the Tabernacle.
Measuring Covid Deaths, by David Leonhardt. July 17, 2023. NYT online.
The United States has reached a milestone in the long struggle against Covid: The total number of Americans dying each day — from any cause — is no longer historically abnormal….
After three horrific years, in which Covid has killed more than one million Americans and transformed parts of daily life, the virus has turned into an ordinary illness.
The progress stems mostly from three factors:
First, about three-quarters of U.S. adults have received at least one vaccine shot.
Second, more than three-quarters of Americans have been infected with Covid, providing natural immunity from future symptoms. (About 97 percent of adults fall into at least one of those first two categories.)
Third, post-infection treatments like Paxlovid, which can reduce the severity of symptoms, became widely available last year.
“Nearly every death is preventable,” Dr. Ashish Jha, who was until recently President Biden’s top Covid adviser, told me. “We are at a point where almost everybody who’s up to date on their vaccines and gets treated if they have Covid, they rarely end up in the hospital, they almost never die.”
That is also true for most high-risk people, Jha pointed out, including older adults — like his parents, who are in their 80s — and people whose immune systems are compromised. “Even for most — not all but most —immuno-compromised people, vaccines are actually still quite effective at preventing against serious illness,” he said. “There has been a lot of bad information out there that somehow if you’re immuno-compromised that vaccines don’t work.”
That excess deaths have fallen close to zero helps make this point: If Covid were still a dire threat to large numbers of people, that would show up in the data.
One point of confusion, I think, has been the way that many Americans — including we in the media — have talked about the immuno-compromised. They are a more diverse group than casual discussion often imagines.
Most immuno-compromised people are at little additional risk from Covid — even people with serious conditions, such as multiple sclerosis or a history of many cancers. A much smaller group, such as people who have received kidney transplants or are undergoing active chemotherapy, face higher risks.
Covid’s toll, to be clear, has not fallen to zero. The C.D.C.’s main Covid webpage estimates that about 80 people per day have been dying from the virus in recent weeks, which is equal to about 1 percent of overall daily deaths.
The official number is probably an exaggeration because it includes some people who had virus when they died even though it was not the underlying cause of death. Other C.D.C. data suggests that almost one-third of official recent Covid deaths have fallen into this category. A study published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases came to similar conclusions.
Dr. Shira Doron, the chief infection control officer at Tufts Medicine in Massachusetts, told me that “age is clearly the most substantial risk factor.” Covid’s victims are both older and disproportionately unvaccinated. Given the politics of vaccination, the recent victims are also disproportionately
Republican and white.
Each of these deaths is a tragedy. The deaths that were preventable — because somebody had not received available vaccines and treatments — seem particularly tragic. (Here’s a Times guide to help you think about when to get your next booster shot.)
From the great Maureen Dowd:
As I write this, I’m in a deserted newsroom in The Times’s D.C. office. After working at home for two years during Covid, I was elated to get back, so I could wander around and pick up the latest scoop.
But in the last year, there has been only a smattering of people whenever I’m here, with row upon row of empty desks. Sometimes a larger group gets lured in for a meeting with a platter of bagels."
--- Dowd writes about the lost world of journalists clustered in newsrooms at all hours, smoking, drinking, gossipping, making phone calls, typing, editing.
"Putting out the paper," we called it.
Much more than nostalgia.