overview

Located in the former Liberty Theatre, Park Villa II (later On Stage), was a popular dance club during the 1980s and early 1990s.

Between 1984 and 1991, Lambda Associates, the main LGBT group on Staten Island, held meetings and dance parties at the club, which often attracted hundreds of patrons.

Header Photo

Credit: James Hanlon, 2019.

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History

The Liberty Theatre was constructed in 1917-18 as a 1,100-seat vaudeville house by the Moses Brothers, heads of the Isle Theatrical Corporation. In the 1920s, it became a movie theater and in the mid-1950s was converted to a bowling alley.

In 1979, the building was purchased by a group of investors and it was converted to a disco. Named after the Park Villa Lounge in Elm Park, in which one of the owners had a part interest, the new club had a 10,000-square-foot dance floor and Western-inspired décor that included a mechanical bull. The customized sound system and lighting, including 12 columns of lights on pulleys à la Studio 54, were state of the art. The club offered a variety of music, including disco, salsa, and country and western in the early years and thrash metal and hip hop in later years. Often there were live performances by “name” acts, including an appearance by gay superstar Sylvester on August 27, 1983.

As was typical of many New York City discos, Park Villa II started out as a straight club, targeting young heterosexuals in South Brooklyn, Staten Island, and New Jersey in its advertisements. As the years went by, it began reaching out to the LGBT community. Lambda Associates, Staten Island’s main LGBT group with a membership of over 150, began holding dances at Park Villa II in October 1984, starting with the group’s first annual costume ball on Halloween. Thereafter, the group sponsored dances on a regular basis, marking such events as the beginning of spring and fall, Gay Pride eve, New Year’s Eve, and Halloween. At the height of their popularity, in late 1986 and early 1987, the dances were held monthly.

These were large events. A 1985 newsletter reported that Lambda’s fourth dance at the club “attracted 400 gay men and women, 60 of them Lambda members,” and featured a balloon drop to Paul Jabara’s It’s Raining Men. On March 14, 1987, the Weather Girls appeared at a special celebration dance marking the first anniversary of the passage of the New York City Gay Rights Bill and sang It’s Raining Men at the 1 A.M. show.

Lambda also held its monthly membership meetings at Park Villa II between January 1985 and April 1987, relocating from its previous meeting place at the Beach Haven lesbian bar. Lambda’s Women’s Awareness Group, led by therapist Dr. Joyce Wendell, also met monthly at the club.

Lambda’s relationship with the Park Villa II management seems to have soured early in 1987. In April 1987, Lambda held two events at the Sandcastle, a LGBT-only bar at 86 Mills Avenue (demolished), in the South Beach section of Staten Island. In May 1987, the group moved its meetings to the Sandcastle; however, it continued to hold its dances at the more spacious Park Villa II.

In December 1987, Park Villa II underwent reorganization and reopened as On Stage. Lambda Associates had a dance there that month. In 1990 and 1991, the club operated as the Love Zone and had Saturday night dances aimed at a LGBT crowd, which were advertised in Outweek. These do not appear to have been connected with Lambda Associates. Lambda’s last dance at the club was probably on New Year’s Eve 1991. It seems to have closed soon after.

With many of its functions being taken over by EAGLE (Education on AIDS in a Gay & Lesbian Environment), the LGBT initiative of the Staten Island AIDS Task Force, Lambda dissolved around 2000.

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