RKO Keith's Theatre

135-35 Northern Boulevard,
Flushing, NY 11354

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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.

LuisV on April 13, 2011 at 6:10 pm

I politely disagree! The future of thsi country is in cities and there is no city better eqipped to reap the benefits of urban living than New York. Flushing will be but one part, though an important one. FiDi and downtown Brooklyn are booming. Long Island City and again picking up steam and this news today shows that there is a lot stirring in Flushing. I applaud them and support them instead of just sitting on the sidelines complaining but offering nothing in return. YAY for New York and it’s progress in growing not just its core but all areas of the city.

LuisV on April 13, 2011 at 5:27 pm

How it was created is irrelevant. We have to deal with what we have now and Bloomberg is doing the right thing in getting rid of the Auto parts slum and replacing it with housing and retail. As gas prices continue to rise, more and more Americans will want and increasingly need to live in urban areas where they can commute to work using mass transit and business will increasingly want to locate in areas with easy access to mass transit. Flushing can be New York’s 5th downtown (after Midtown, The Financial District, Downtown Brooklyn and Long Island City).

WilliamMcQuade on April 13, 2011 at 5:13 pm

Tell old Claire the “cancer” was created by her predecessor the late unlamented Donald Manes.

LuisV on April 13, 2011 at 5:04 pm

Nonsense. We are now emerging from the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression and there is no doubt in my mind tha Flushing will become a boomtown and these projects come to fruition. Willets Point WILL happen! That’s what eminent domain is for; to create development for the greater public good. We don’t need or want that 3rd world unpaved road quagmire that currently makes up Willets Point. We DO need more housing, more retail and more recreational and entertainment areas. It’s most unfortunate that the RKO Keiths couldn’t have been fully redeveloped. Instead, we will have the lobby and, in my opinion, it is better than nothing. How I wish we still had the lobby’s of the Triboro or The Roxy or any of the other palaces that met the wrecking ball. I just hope they truly do an honorable and faithful restoration with the $8MM budgeted.

SWCphotography on April 13, 2011 at 4:15 pm

The Bridge to Nowhere:
On 3/14/11 Bloomberg unveiled Vision 2020, which outlines plans for the borough’s waterfront for the next decade and beyond. Two weeks later the City’s Willets Point plans hit legal pothole when the judge asked authorities why she shouldn’t reverse her earlier dismissal of lawsuit to block the redevelopment after city skirted restrictions. Though plentiful, the longer-term plans are not yet funded do not have definite dates attached and are often described using the word “explore” ; Flushing River did not receive immediate funding. Meanwhile Shulman continues to push her vision of a pedestrian bridge over the creek as a key component of revitalizing the waterfront. The census showed the population in Flushing as stagnent at best, actually saturated to a maximum for the last 10 years (if they missed some numbers they will not those in the market for luxury condos), developers seem to be banking on population growth, while all these articles bemoan the high density of downtown. That Times article ends with words of caution: “The success of most of these projects depends on large amounts of financing, which is far from certain in this economy”. The RKO will most likely look the same next year and the real cancer is over development.

WilliamMcQuade on April 13, 2011 at 2:51 pm

Anyone want to take a bet as to what the site will look like 1 year from now. I say nothing will happen and it will stay as is.

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on April 9, 2011 at 7:48 pm

Sorry… I meant to type the title “Vigilante” not “Vengeance” in that last post.

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on April 9, 2011 at 7:47 pm

Title on the top looks like “Spring Break,” another one of those teenage sex romps that I remember all too well from the early ‘80’s. Using screen magnification, also looks like the Keith’s saw fit to add that “Vengeance” was “with F. Williamson” at the very bottom of the side panel. Who knew that Fred Williamson’s name would make a better enticement than Charles Bronson’s for his “10 to Midnight?”

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on April 9, 2011 at 1:49 pm

I can make out the titles “10 to Midnight” and “Vigilante” on the marquee’s sideboard. That would date this photo to 1983.

BobbyS on April 9, 2011 at 12:32 pm

Great pic’s! I am amazed that the Keith' was still using the block lettering on the marquee that was the standard for movie theaters in the 20’s & 30’s. Here in Chicago, all of our theaters were switched to white milk glass and black or red plastic lettering hung on them. The grandaddy of them all being our famous Chicago Theater marquee which was just taken down two years ago and replaced with the same glorious design and size bulb for bulb. Time had taken its toll on the wiring. They did a beautiful restoration. The vertical was done four years using the same design and size. Breathtaking at night!!

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on April 8, 2011 at 7:49 pm

There have been so many posts here that it is impossible for me to scan them all to see if the following images have been posted before. I don’t believe so, but please forgive the duplication if they have. Found these while trolling through a Facebook group dedicated to memories of places and people in Queens.

This one was labled IS 61 graduation 1972

Rear Orchestra under balcony overhang

I believe that last one is the Keith’s, but someone please correct me if not. As for the graduation picture… I would trust whoever posted the picture to know when their own graduation was, but I know that “Finian’s Rainbow” was released in 1968 so don’t hold me to it.

BobbyS on April 3, 2011 at 11:08 pm

Another shell game or did they call it pea game in its day when people would set up stands near theaters maybe RKO Keith’s and try to wow the public and their pocket books while thousands were in line to buy a ticket for a movie/stage show.. Nothing is really new. The shell games get bigger, and the egos of some even bigger!