RKO Keith's Theatre

135-35 Northern Boulevard,
Flushing, NY 11354

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WilliamMcQuade
WilliamMcQuade on March 4, 2011 at 9:22 pm

This theater, the old Loews Triboro & the U S Pavillion building at the 1964 Worlds Fair were all demolished because of Donald Manes. The city helped especially with the Keiths in turning a blind eye & letting the NY State Pavillion in Flushing Meadows fall into total disrepair. Only in the US (& NY especially) do we treat our architectural history with such utter disdain.

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on March 4, 2011 at 9:08 pm

Note to bazookadave and Jeffrey1955… stories of my demise have been greatly exaggerated. Just haven’t had the sort of time to tool around and comment on CT like I used to! Anyway, using this to turn my notifications back on for this theater. I tried to keep on top of goings on here as often as I could, but seems like I missed a whole lot of activity recently. Also wanted to tip my hat to the outstanding work here by SWCphotography!!! So… this nonsensical concept for an undulating panel of glass to display the restored Keith’s lobby (whilst destroying the entire southern wall of the lobby) is still on the table? What a farce!

Jeffrey1955
Jeffrey1955 on March 4, 2011 at 1:54 pm

Hate to be a broken record, but “what a load of crap” that story is. I could tell as soon as I read the line in the 4th paragraph complaining that restoration of the lobby is potentially years away because the road there is “rife with red tape.” Yeah, that makes perfect sense: if only the developers weren’t hamstrung by red tape, they would be able to do right by the theater and the community so much faster. And if you believe that, I have a big theater auditorium awaiting demolition in Flushing I’d like to sell you!

BobbyS
BobbyS on March 3, 2011 at 9:53 pm

Absolutely true about theaters built for live shows that were turned into movie houses. Many on Broadway during the heyday of the motion picture. I just saw tonite a wonderful prelude disc on the “How the West Was Won” on Cinerama. The history of it begining in 1952 on Broadway and absolutely taking NY by storm. Playing to sell-out crowds for years at a time. It gave movie palaces a second-life as TV tried to kill them. Every city had one and the people couldn’t stay away. It is only a matter of time before 3-D today begins to fade also. Thank goodness for the centers for the performing arts that have been the saviour of the motion picture palace.

SWCphotography
SWCphotography on March 3, 2011 at 7:44 pm

Remember that the RKO was designed and built for live performances something that can be quite successful – witness the RKO Pantages:

If it ever was subdivided again note that the Thomas Lamb designed Metro Big Theatre, in Mumbai India, now a hexiplex, renovated in 2006 for state of the art digital cinema, is expected to receive 20 million visitors:

However I do wonder about how successful 357 “market rate” units will be on Flushing’s most congested intersection.

BobbyS
BobbyS on March 3, 2011 at 10:31 am

A wonderful thought. However the way people get they entertainment today is different even from 1970. Movies are no longer screened in a special theater with stars twinkling etc. They are just put into the largest screen when they first open and on to smaller screens as the weeks go on and then “out the door”. The Cineplex is here to stay. Unfortunately!

metro156
metro156 on March 2, 2011 at 8:17 am

I saw many a movie at this theater; just a short bus ride from Bayside.

This was the definition of a “Theater Experience”.

I remember arriving late to see “The Twelve Chairs” in 1970, only to be treated to a live performance by Dom DeLuise after the movie.

This theater should be restored to its original glory at all costs.

BobbyS
BobbyS on February 16, 2011 at 9:50 pm

When did Keith-Albee go their own way? I remeber going to B.F. Keith’s in Washington D.C. in the 70’s. I also saw the last days of the RKO ALBEE in Cinn. just before they locked it up and started demo along with the Gibson hotel next door. It was some block!

Jeffrey1955
Jeffrey1955 on February 13, 2011 at 11:46 am

In other words, they have left the place unprotected, so more and more of the interior is being defaced and/or carted off? Some of you guys in the area should install NEW locks, so you’re the only ones who can get in. Document the open door. Then you could make a case that they have actually abandoned the property, and you’ve taken possession. Isn’t possession nine-tenths of the law?

I’m only half kidding.

SWCphotography
SWCphotography on February 13, 2011 at 10:15 am

No problem, about to give up picture taking I was on my way to the airport when I noticed a homeless guy with a shopping cart, loaded with scraps, going out of the unlocked front door, seems that when Boymelgreen left and Thompson came things got a little lax. This could be a smart move because if it burns down there goes that landmark issue. Lots of graffiti, apparently some kids set up a club house with disposed furniture in the stage area called “The Cage”. I ask only that you close the door when your done then call the 109th. I can tell you that the business case for building more residential units is overwhelming:

bazookadave
bazookadave on February 13, 2011 at 9:39 am

Can you get back into the theater with some of us who want to take some pictures of the interior? Could we get as far as the foyer and lobby without getting busted?

SWCphotography
SWCphotography on February 12, 2011 at 10:26 pm

The RKO Keith’s, in February 2011 has a Phantom of the Opera feel. The original screen and curtains are still there, but barely visible to the left. The under stage entryways, including one that leads to a ramp from the animal room, can be seen toward the back right.

SWCphotography
SWCphotography on February 10, 2011 at 10:26 pm

The light over the stage comes from a hole in the roof that you can see above the “L” in Lemon (like what is being proposed for this site) in this photo:

the light from the foyer comes from the gap over the top of the ramshackle plywood covering the street entrance; otherwise it was very dark and hard to focus.

Jeffrey1955
Jeffrey1955 on February 10, 2011 at 8:34 pm

Wow! In the belly of the beast, so to speak. Have to take your word for it about the plaster work — a little hard to make out. What is the source of the light visible at about :18-:20, and again at about :27-:30? My brain is trying to turn it into an illuminated concession stand sign, but I know that can’t be it (then again, my brain is trying to tell me I’m actually looking up under the mezzanine at Shea Stadium before it was torn down!)

SWCphotography
SWCphotography on February 10, 2011 at 6:55 pm

This is a 2011 short 30 second clip of the interior of the RKO Keith’s in Flushing Queens. The view scans from the stage to the rear facing the balcony, shot in night mode. The balcony support truss can be seen intact. Much of the plaster work, from the proscenium and along the sides is still there,

[url]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RL09FOubmmw[/url]

Bway
Bway on February 10, 2011 at 6:14 pm

Great photos, well great to see them, not the depressingness of what was allowed to happen to the place. Thanks so much!

Jeffrey1955
Jeffrey1955 on February 10, 2011 at 11:50 am

Amazing photos — and heartbreaking to see what they did to the place.

SWCphotography
SWCphotography on February 10, 2011 at 10:04 am

Corrected link for gallery: [url]http://www.wideimaging.com/Queens/Landmarks-Preservation/Flushing-RKO-Keiths/8166185_iSaTb[/url]

SWCphotography
SWCphotography on February 10, 2011 at 9:41 am

Time to come up with another email and physical mail address list, I’ll work on that and post it here. I would not minimize the importance of regulatory approval – it’s all a matter of pointing out roadblocks that will cut into profitability – and that makes it difficult to convince a lender what the profit per square foot will be. I’d rather see a boarded up hulk for another 10 years than see the stifling congestion that this will contribute toward (so it’s really two issues: over-development and landmark preservation).
The gallery link as a slide show (new views are at the end): RKO Keith’s slideshow

Jeffrey1955
Jeffrey1955 on February 10, 2011 at 7:26 am

3 things:
1. The link to that original 2005 article I posted above was wrong; it is now View link
2. SWCphotography, is there a link to the 27 new auditorium photos? Only see the one posted above. (Won’t ask how you got them!)
3. I worry that even if the FAA will not give a height variance, it won’t save the theater; they probably built the excess height into the design so they could “compromise” — and reducing the height would actually make it even more difficult to argue they can afford to preserve the entire theater and build over it, since they would have to build “downward” to cram in all the space they want to make it “economically feasible”…

BobbyS
BobbyS on February 10, 2011 at 5:54 am

Thanks for the update… They sure knew how to design and build them didn’t they? Just this photo proves what a magical place this once was and should be retained for the future. Very few buildings today give you the “wow” factor when you enter them. No wonder people cherished them so much.

SWCphotography
SWCphotography on February 9, 2011 at 11:26 pm

27 new auditorium photos from 2011 added, a lot of original detail remains and hopefully will not end up in a dumpster before they find out they won’t get an FAA height variance regardless of what CB 7 approves on 2/14.

Jeffrey1955
Jeffrey1955 on February 8, 2011 at 8:06 pm

This is all truly absurd — not just the plan, but the reactions to the plan. Checking back, I’ve found that this is the exact same Jay Valgora design put forth by Boymelgreen SIX years ago. NOTHING has changed: not the idea that the “theater” would be “preserved,” nor the PR flackery that promoted the idea of how wonderful it was to replace this “dilapidated” theater with a big new residential building. Note that according to this 2005 description of the same plan, the new building’s tenants will be able to walk through the historic lobby — missing, apparently, the entire front wall — on their way to the elevators. Perhaps they’ve altered the apartment/condo configuration once again, but that’s it — and they’re STILL ignoring everybody who says this thing is going to overwhelm the neighborhood. So what else is new?

RKO Keith’s to get a touch of glass
By Cynthia Koons
02/17/2005

View link

Architect Jay Valgora presents the latest designs, approved Monday, for the dilapidated RKO KeithÕs Theater in downtown Flushing. Photo by Cynthia Koons
An elegant 18-story high rise adorned by a glass curtain will be built atop the rundown RKO Keith’s Theater at the end of Main Street in Flushing if Community Board 7’s nod Monday night paves the way for the city’s approval of the project.

It was one week shy of a year since architect Jay Valgora first stood before CB 7 and asked the board to approve a residential and retail development that was nearly twice the allowable bulk by law. His proposal was unanimously defeated. This time he asked the board to consider a building that was slimmer in design but maintained the architectural character of the movie house by restoring the historic lobby and constructing a translucent curtain at the entrance.

“The exciting part is the exact same building that we saw a year ago is still going to be there,” said Chuck Apelian, CB 7 vice chairman. He worked with Brooklyn-based Boymelgreen Developers to present their designs last February, which were essentially the same in look, just bulkier in size.

When they unanimously rejected the plan a year ago, board members contended the parking was insufficient because developers were only creating 266 spaces for 250 condos. On Monday night, Valgora showed board members a plan that included 233 valet spaces for 200 apartments. The board approved it in a 33-to-2 vote.

The proposal now must be approved by the borough board, Borough President Helen Marshall, the Department of City Planning and City Council before being constructed. Planners said once approved, the project could take two years to complete.

“It will be the beacon of Flushing Main Street, just as the RKO Keith’s was for so many years,” Marshall said Tuesday. “We’re all looking forward to that.”

At Marshall’s urging, revisions to the design did not eliminate plans for a two-story, 12,500-square-foot senior center that includes classrooms and a dining area.

“It’s really a world-class design,” said Howard Goldman, the developer’s attorney. “It has pulled its belt in and gotten a little slimmer. We hope to bring back some of the glory that the RKO Keith’s had in Queens.”

The RKO Keith’s Theater was built in the 1920s and was a destination cinema for 60 years where major silent movie stars performed vaudeville acts and Groucho Marx made his moustache famous, said Joe Sena, a documentarian who is working on a film about the movie house.

The theater closed in the mid-1980s and fell into disrepair in the hands of developer Tommy Huang, who was convicted of a felony charge for ignoring asbestos contamination and spilling hundreds of gallons of fuel oil in the basement of the building. When civic leaders toured the landmark cinema two years ago, they saw the once-grandiose lobby covered in graffiti and blanketed in dust.

But Valgora promised to resurrect the RKO Keith’s lobby by restoring the two grand staircases and replacing the centerpiece fountain that vanished from the building.

The entrance will be encased by a frosted, undulating glass curtain that matches the dimensions of the original theater’s proscenium.

“It’s like a wall of fabric,” Valgora said. “Right behind that is the original historic lobby.”

The foyer will be open to the public and serve as the entrance for the residents of the 200 one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments upstairs. Valgora said the building is set 10 feet further back from the street than originally planned and is slimmer in dimension all around.

The developers said it would cost roughly $65 million to construct the building, markedly less than the $100 million they were planning to spend on last year’s designs.

Apelian said it was important that CB 7 voted to maintain the architectural integrity of the building while still requiring the developer to add parking and to slash the number of apartments.

“We fought for that building,” Apelian said. “So much so that it would be a sacrilege to give you something else.”

A few board members spoke against the project, contending that it did not fit in with the surrounding neighborhood and would not conform with the neighborhood’s cost of living.

Tom Brennan
Tom Brennan on February 8, 2011 at 6:21 pm

I have kept an eye on this thread for years and I am sad to see that inevitable news of an apartment complex. Is there any possible way a group of people can gain access to the theater to take some pictures before construction gets underway. I’m thinking probably not, but it would be great to be inside one last time.