RKO Keith's Theatre

135-35 Northern Boulevard,
Flushing, NY 11354

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LuisV on April 15, 2011 at 10:31 am

My understanding is that there were indeed gaping holes and pigeons living inside. It is why the New Amsterdam is always used as the main reference point when people say that a certain theater is “too far gone” for restoration. Of course, at the end of the day it always boils down to money and the New Amsterdam is the perfect example of what can be done if the will (and the funding) can be found. I could be wrong but wasn’t $70MM spent on Radio City’s restoration way back when and that theater was all in one piece and still put together. I do agree, however, that the Keiths auditorium looks to be in better shape than I expected to see; certainly not much worse than the Kings (also being renovated at a cost of $70MM).

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on April 15, 2011 at 9:23 am

Hey Bobby. The New Amsterdam actually shuttered in the early 1980’s and was left vacant for at least a dozen years before Disney swooped in with its restoration. And I do believe that there were leaks into the New Amsterdam – not sure if there were any gaping holes in the roofing or open exterior doorways, as there are at the Keith’s.

BobbyS on April 15, 2011 at 9:09 am

Wonderful photo Matt…I had no idea the theater was in such good shape considering it has been closed for so long. The New Amsterdam was used as a 2nd rate movie theater until it was bought by Disney and restored. But it was never left to the weather and empty for 1 day and the Keith’s looks as in good shape considering. It should never be used as a movie theater, those days are gone, but for live performances as it was designed to do.

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on April 15, 2011 at 6:11 am

Awesome shot on that site, Matt! LuisV… “we” may not have the resources to save this theater, but someone out there does. The problem is, the local politicians (unlike the Brooklyn BP) are not motivated to find anyone to restore this brokedown palace to its highest and best use.

WilliamMcQuade on April 14, 2011 at 7:23 pm

I believe putting it on the Federal Register only means you cannot use Federal money to knock it down.

SWCphotography on April 14, 2011 at 5:44 pm

Thanks Matt! Exactly as I saw it in February. Much of the missing auditorium artifacts were hacked off, crated and stored in the theater. I’ve stated the facts that the RKO is a cultural asset in a community that has few. The census, traffic flow, vacancy rate and tax assessment are also public record, it is acknowledged even by proponents for Flushing Commons that Flushing is over crowded. Projects like these would take over 3 years to complete, during that time traffic flow will go from extremely bad to impossible. The rhetoric has Flushing as “booming” and somehow has defied gravity. As congestion increases it will become even more difficult to sell. The facts are on the ground lots of empty buildings and people struggling to get on the subway, the golden goose has laid its last golden egg.

LuisV on April 14, 2011 at 2:40 pm

Thanks for the link Matt. To be honest, the interior doesn’t look much worse than the Kings and is certainly much better than the New Amsterdam before its restoration. That said, we all know that the restorations on both took/will take tens of millions and we simply don’t have those resources for this theater.

Ed, I don’t disagree with look on lending standards in the next year but in due time they will get back to more liberal standards. I have been in real estate for almost 21 years! :–) Of course, people will always need paces to live and if they don’t build for sale condos they will simply build rentals as is happenning throughout Manhattan, Downtown Brooklyn and Long Island City. Flushing is a good prospect as well.

Matt Lambros
Matt Lambros on April 14, 2011 at 1:28 pm

That’s odd. This link should work

View link

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on April 14, 2011 at 1:01 pm

Hey Matt… That link doesn’t seem to work for me. Brings me to the After the Final Curtain website, but the specific page is not found.

LuisV, not to continue the debate or get between you and SWC – because I think I’m done with the topic – but I wouldn’t be so sure that lending will get any easier within the next year. As one who is in the mortgage industry, I can tell you it has gotten much tougher to obtain a loan over the last 3 years and there are proposals being batted about on Capitol Hill that may make lending practices tighter still – calling for larger down payments and more conservative estimates of borrower capacity. How that impacts the overall economic recovery and how long it will take these policies to be enacted (and in what form – likely watered down), I leave for others to theorize.

Matt Lambros
Matt Lambros on April 14, 2011 at 12:11 pm

Here’s a recent image of the remains of the auditorium of the Keiths


LuisV on April 14, 2011 at 12:00 pm

Once again, SWC, you are wrong. The census is being challenged and tightly so. There are certainly more people in NYC now than there have ever been and the the economy in NY is absolutely improving. If you choose not to see it that is your choice but it doesn’t change reality. Housing is in tight supply. Once lending becomes easier (and it will within a year) you will see how quickly the housing market recovers in the boroughs. I understand your frustration with the Keiths, I really do. I get sick thinking about the loss of theaters like the Roxy, The Center, Proctors 59th St, Capitol, Rivoli, the original Ziegfeld, the Academy of Music, the Brooklyn Fox, Triboro, Loews Commodore, the Forum, and on and on. But again, the sheer number of them meant that they could not all bre saved so I take solace in the ones that we have been able to preserve. There is still work to do but I’m afraid that the Keiths never got the right break or the right saviour. It was a beautiful theater. I was there only once but was awed by its beauty.

SWCphotography on April 14, 2011 at 11:47 am

The sad reality is that the economic rebound is not around the corner a fact underscored by the census. The RKO was not designed as a theater but to accommodate live performances. That a plan does not exist for adaptive reuse is thanks to the ownership of 3 consecutive developers. When Thompson’s plan falls through because he will not get final approval or funding it will fall back on the bank and ultimately the city. If anyone can advocate something as preposterous as a pedestrian bridge to Willets Point before Flushing Bay even has funding or a plan for clean up then funding can be found for public works other than pursuing the pipe dream of increasing the population density but improving the quality of life.

LuisV on April 14, 2011 at 9:03 am

SWC, you are being very short sighted. We are just coming out of the greatest economic crisis since the depression and NYC has held it together amazingly well. When the economy rebounds you will see those apartments rented and sold very quickly. Willets Point is a DUMP. That is why Eminent Domain exists; to pay property owners Fair Market Value to put the land to a use that better benefits the community at large. Same as Atlantic Yards and at Columbia’s new Campus in the Wasteland that was once Far West Harlem.

The sad reality is that Theater Palaces have outlived their functional usefulness as Movie Theaters. That’s a fact. In these economic times it is tough to get government funding for a restoration of a theater and even if you could, there must be a plan for the theater to support itself. The Kings has pulled off an amazing feat in scoring a $70MM restoration with a lot of city help. They plan on having over 200 events a week to keep it running without further subsidy. We simply can’t do that for every old movie palace in the city. What private company is going to pay to restore a theater and then subsidize its operation on its own? Short of that, each theater has to have its own plan. How will they raise the funds? How will they generate income? In the case of the New Amsterdam and the Kings it involved city tax breaks and the involvement of private companies like Disney and ACE theatricals.

For the Valenica, the Gates, The Hollywood, The Elmwood, the 175th Street, the Stanley, etc, it involved a church that dedicated itself to preserving the architectural integrity of the space and having parishioners pay for the continued upkeep.

For the Jersey, it was a local volunteer group that raised funds and have restored the theater over time after the city transferred ownership to them.

For the St. George, it was one local woman who bought the theater and them “made it work” and now it is a big success as Staten Island’s premier entertainment venue.

For many other theaters in Manhattan it meant returning to live theater.

Alas, no one ever presented a viable proposition for the RKO Keiths Flushing. Was Manes crooked? absolutely! It’s disgusting but here we are all these years later and there is still no credible plan to save this theater other than its lobby. We should make sure that they at least do a wonderful restoration of that. In the meantime, there is still time to save the Brooklyn Paramount, the RKO Keiths Richmond Hill, Loews Canal, The Jackson, etc…

BobbyS on April 14, 2011 at 8:42 am

SWC,you paint a pretty grim picture of the area. I guess it all comes to money and who will invest theirs or someone elses. I sense you know what you are talking about from your writings and photos. I don’t think subsidized housing is the way to go for the Keith’s, but it might unless things in this country change in real estate. I find it hard to believe tennants walking by the glass enclosed lobby will be fascinated time after time of the beauty of Thomas Lamb’s design!

SWCphotography on April 14, 2011 at 8:16 am

Straying off topic toward the pros and cons of urban renewal across NYC does nothing to examine the RKO and its place in Flushing’s history. The entire interior was landmarked in 1984 and reduced to just the lobby the same year, by the now defunct board of estimate, at the behest of Manes to facilitate the sale to Huang 2 years later. The fact is Flushing is saturated: there is already an 8% vacancy rate, they can’t find buyers or renters for what is already built. The 357 market rental scheme can become low income housing subsidized by the government through the voucher program if tenants default. Who is going to pay for restore: never a developer (as long as they own the property) Thankfully property ownership means nothing as shown in Willets Point.

LuisV on April 14, 2011 at 7:36 am

I understand your concerns too Ed. It is a double edged sword. I was born and raised in the city and still proudly live here, but I all too clearly remember the days when the Bronx and Bushwick were burning and neighborhood after neighborhood was in deep decline putting the entire city at great risk. I am thrilled that virtually all NYC neighborhoods have rebounded sharply since those bad old days and while I sometimes recall Times Square’s past in a romanticized way, the reality was that it was a pit and a cancer that was killing Broadway and our city. Today Times Square is an economic powerhouse providing tens of thousands of jobs to people that cater to these new tourists, office workers and yes residents! I don’t like seeing the poor pushed out, but I also didn’t like seeing the middle class pushed out of so many areas back in the 70’s and 80’s as neighborhoods slid into despair. It’s great to see Hell’s Kitchen, Park Slope, The Lower East Side, Chelsea, Long Island City, Dumbo, and on and on develop into places where people want to live, work and play. Few other cities have this vibrancy.

When it came time to buy a home of my own, i chose the Financial District because it is one of the very few gentrifying areas that did not push anybody out. The homes were simply repurposed from obsolete office buildings and that makes me feel good. The city has over a million rent controlled/rent stabilized homes and provides an amazing amount of services to the poor which I am in full support of, but that takes a lot of money; money that comes from keeping the rich and middle classes in the city. So Willets Point will become the home of more middle income residences and retail which will benefit a great many more people. Luckily, no one lives in Willets Point. But they will! :–)

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on April 14, 2011 at 6:53 am

I understand completly, LuisV, and I agree with you to a great extent about progress. I was merely pointing out that “progress” usually means displacing the poor to benefit the rich. The UN building notwithstanding – I highly doubt that anything nearly as significant as the UN will be erected in Willets Point. Rather, it will be a playground for those with disposable cash – and will likely be desolate during the off-season for baseball (or worse yet, even during the baseball season if the Mets continue to field a losing product year after year).

Just seems it happens time and again in this City. Small businesses struggle to survive yet somehow perservere through rough times in decaying urban areas, putting up with crime, lack of services and crumbling infrastructure for years – sometimes decades. Then one day someone decides the area is ripe for urban renewal and all of a sudden there’s a lot of capital investment, restoration of infrastructure and services and the little guy is squeezed out in favor of “big box” chains and corporate interests. It happened in Times Square, Harlem and now it will happen in Willets Point. Let’s returns to the area east of 126th Street in 5 or 6 years and see if there is a single mom & pop shop in evidence.

LuisV on April 14, 2011 at 5:29 am

Ed Solero, Before the UN was built the site was filled with slaughterhouses, breweries and tenements which technically provided services and housing. But we didn’t leave it there because people worked and lived there. For the city to progress, we had to clear it out for better uses for a growing city. Uses that would benefit far more people. That is the reason the Willets Point has to go and rightly so. I do agree with you about the loss of the RKO Keiths. The current plan is a pale one compared to a full restoration, but it is all we have at this point. I would rather see a part of it saved than none at all.

WilliamMcQuade, I applaud your fight to save the Triboro. I never had the opportunity to see it. I agree that New York has lost a horrific number of the world’s most beautiful Movie Palaces but it is grossly unfair to say that New York somehow trails Chicago and San Francisco and Oakland in preservation. Let’s count the theaters shall we? All Five Wonder theaters are still here (Valencia, 175th, Paradise, Jersey (still counts) and the Kings now undergoing a $70MM renovation. We have Radio City, The Beacon, The New Amsterdam, The Hollywood, The Apollo, Loews Gates, The St. George and The Ziegfeld. There are others that are now operating as churches as well like the Gates and the Elmwood. In addition, we still have the Brooklyn Paramount, Loews Canal and the RKO Ketihs Richmond Hill waiting in the wings. The Staten Island Paramount, I also believe, is in the process of restoration. I believe that NY retains the greatest collection of movie palaces in the country. That NY has lost so many treasures says a lot about the sheer quantity of Movie Palaces that our city once had. We have lost much, but we still have much more than anyone else. Most other cities are lucky to have one or two remaining palaces. It doesn’t mean that we don’t fight to keep everything that is left. It is why we still fight for the Ridgewood.

Drew C
Drew C on April 14, 2011 at 12:03 am

Preservation laws are such a joke. Adding a building to the National Register of Historic Places or giving the building landmark status does very little to protect the building. And why wasn’t the entire building put on the list in 84 along with the lobby and grand foyer?

BobbyS on April 13, 2011 at 10:16 pm

Wonder if light rail would help the area with all the commuters running around. It would add to the charm of the Keith’s wouldn’t it?
On the other hand, if they can’t agree what to do with the Keith’s and start going, laying tracks in the middle of the street would really be a pipe dream (pun intended).

WilliamMcQuade on April 13, 2011 at 9:31 pm

No one is going to sink a ton of money into what many believe is a white elephant.

It may be too far gone to renovate totally or the cost would simply be too prohibitive. Marshall & Claire would fight tooth & nail against any competiton for the beloved (no idea why) theater in the park.

My guess it continues to sit there & rot away. A sad end to a beautiful theater.

WilliamMcQuade on April 13, 2011 at 8:10 pm

To Luis V

I did not sit on the sidelines. I put time & effort & sweat & tears into the triboro to have all my hopes dashed by a crooked politician. The same goes for the Keiths. I just got tired of fighting city hall. NY, the entertainment capital of the world, has destroyed virtually all of their picture palaces in Times Square. While losing a lot, Chicago has at least 2 in the loop. San Francisco has a few & Oakland has two. New York does not have a good track record saving its history. Throw in Penn Station & you make it complete. When you do the equivelent of what I did on the Triboro & the Keiths early on, get back to me.

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on April 13, 2011 at 8:07 pm

That’s true, SWC. While the future of this country may be in the cities, that is in large part true because the rising cost of gas is going to drive the cost of living through the roof for commuters out in the burbs. There is an AWFUL lot of vehicular traffic through Flushing (not only cars but the convergence of several bus lines around the 7 train terminus) depositing crowds that rival those in Times Square! When I worked on Main St and Sanford Ave in Flushing nearly 20 years ago, going out to grab some lunch north of the LIRR tracks was quite an adventure!

SWCphotography on April 13, 2011 at 7:53 pm

So how many subways serve the financial district and how many serve Flushing. The population of Flushing is 54,884 nominally up from 54,329 in 2000. The overcrowding is from the over 100,000 people that funnel into Flushing every day to get to the No. 7.

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on April 13, 2011 at 7:51 pm

You know LuisV… some people on this website actually DO try to get things done rather than just sit on the sidelines and complain. I, too, would be very happy to have some piece of the Triboro or Roxy still standing for all to appreciate, but we actually STILL have the entire RKO Keith’s building standing on Northern Blvd.

And I get it… a multi-million dollar restoration of a 3000 seat theater in an outer borough of NYC does not just happen overnight. You need a developer with a vision, a community in support of the plan, tons of capital and strong political support. A lot of moving parts to coordinate and cajole into action. A real damn shame that we have none of that in play for the Keith’s! But I look to Brooklyn and see what happens when you have a political leader who actually gets behind a preservation and rehabilitation project like that of the Loew’s Kings… and I just get irritated by the goings on in Flushing.

And what galls me more than anything else, is we still don’t have a straight answer on how faithful the restoration of the Keith’s lobby will actually be to Lamb’s original plans and specs. This whole glass curtain concept and the ramifications that has with respect to destroying the southern wall of the “landmarked” lobby in order to expose it to passersby, seems in itself to be a huge compromise of the LPC’s designation and protections. Are we not, at least, entitled to raise our voices about that issue? OK, so the landmark designation doesn’t cover the auditorium, but it doesn’t even seem that we’re going to see restoration and preservation for the entirety of those portions of the theater that ARE landmarked.

As for Willets Point… There are always two sides to a coin. Let’s not forget that – while some may not find the ramshackle nature and broken pavement of the area across from Citifield – there are a number of legitimate small businesses that operate there and offer affordable options for folks in need of auto body work, hub-caps, tire rims, etc., particularly for those of meager means trying to maintain their older vehicles. It sure isn’t pretty, but it serves a purpose. Does progress and urban development always have to mean the displacement of the small and modest for the sake of luxury accommodations catering to more discerning clientele? And in the end, it only means that automobile owners in Queens will have to shell out more for their body work and replacement parts once those businesses are re-zoned out of existence.