RKO Keith's Theatre

135-35 Northern Boulevard,
Flushing, NY 11354

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SWCphotography
SWCphotography on February 13, 2011 at 1:15 pm

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 12:39 pm

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 13, 2011 at 1:26 am

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 11, 2011 at 1:26 am

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 11:34 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 9:55 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 9:14 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 2:50 pm

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

SWCphotography
SWCphotography on February 10, 2011 at 1:04 pm

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 12:41 pm

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 10:26 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 8:54 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 10, 2011 at 2:26 am

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 11:06 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 9:21 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.

BobbyS
BobbyS on February 3, 2011 at 11:02 pm

Ron, there are photos of the auditorium in the present state. I saw them as I was reading the entire posts. I am in Chicago and our Uptown Theatre is in similar state. Alot of water damage, but not quite as dispair as the Keith’s. The auditorium at Keith’s is a lost cause I believe because it would take millions to restore it to the beauty it was once. And the question would be for what? Isn’t that the reason they triplexed it in the first place? Our focus should now be the Loew’s Kings where new life awaits it.

ron1screen
ron1screen on February 3, 2011 at 9:39 pm

Lots of photo’s of the lobby, but any of what’s left of the auditorium? I understand only the lobby is supposed to be saved but would like to see whats being demolished. And hopefully someone will photo archive the rest of the theatre before demolition begins in earnest.

BobbyS
BobbyS on February 3, 2011 at 8:41 pm

Enjoyed all the chatter and photo’s.. I wonder if this is the theater I have seen for years when the airplane landed at Laguardia.
The theater I am thinking of had a large vertical sign and I believe it said B.F. Keith’s. Could it be another theater? According to these photos, RKO Keith’s never had a vertical just a rooftop sign.
Also wasn’t there a RKO or BF Keiths somewhere in Westchester Co?
I remember passing it in the late 60’s. Could have been Younkers.

bazookadave
bazookadave on January 28, 2011 at 10:29 pm

Here is an enlargement of the picture of the stairs:

View link

bazookadave
bazookadave on January 28, 2011 at 10:24 pm

Some of those pictures of the lobby above are from this web site:

http://www.bcausa.com/portfolio/project/154/43

NativeForestHiller
NativeForestHiller on January 28, 2011 at 8:53 pm

You raised some great points in your letter to the editor, Jeffrey. I have also noticed a trend of local newspapers praising the developer and project as if “the theater” is being saved. Some newspapers tend to recycle the “nonsensical and questionable PR claims,” rather than introduce new, concrete, and thought-provoking facts. An investigation is needed.

Send a similar version of your letter to all local and citywide papers, since this is a citywide issue that merits rightful coverage for the people’s sake.

Jeffrey1955
Jeffrey1955 on January 28, 2011 at 8:37 pm

SWC, your points are right on; just look at the fourth composite rendering down in the Architect’s Newspaper story, showing what’s supposed to be the long view down Main St. with that new behemoth at the end. The image in the foreground is clearly an actual photograph, showing Main St. clogged with traffic in every direction — and that’s what the architect is showing us by incorporating an image WITHOUT this project actually being there!

I wrote to that paper, as follows:

To the editor,

Your January 14 article, “Curtain Call for Curtain Wall in Queens” by Tom Stoelker, opens with a quote from Groucho Marx. How appropriate, since everything about the plan for this Main Street, Flushing project screams “farce”. To start, you claim in the article’s subhead, “Studio V Architecture’s proposed mixed-use tower saves 82-year-old RKO Keith’s Theater.” You must be joking! Last time I checked, a “theater” meant more than just a lobby — which is all that would be “saved” here.

Despite all the press coverage, the details of this plan remain a mystery, and rather than clear up any of the questions, your article simply adds more head-scratchers to the mix. Chief among the conundrums is just exactly how the landmarked lobby can be opened up for display without destroying half the foyer and the entire ticket lobby. One might think that renderings showing the lobby through a glass wall would give some clue, but as you say, “Missing from the images are details of the grand movie house lobby, which will be exposed to the street through a two-story glass atrium.” Indeed, despite the photo-realistic quality of the rest of the rendering, the area behind the glass shroud appears as vague, boxy white shapes. Isn’t it odd that no attempt has been made to illustrate the very feature Studio V claims to be the focal point of the entire project?

You write, “Designers plan to erect a steel cage around the original structure and then insert protective skin. The original façade will then be removed to reveal the interiors for all of Main Street to see, making the old lobby a star.” Did you not think to ask how the entire façade can be removed and the interior revealed without removing the lobby’s front end — or how that can be accomplished without violating the landmarks law? You continue, “The cage will then support the new structure and the tower’s base will replicate the stage’s proscenium arch.” What? How does the tower’s base “replicate” the main element of the Thomas Lamb-designed auditorium, which is to be completely destroyed?

Saying, “there are a few issues to iron out” is an understatement. If a senior center is to “weave its way around the space,” does this mean the seniors are to be on display through the glass wall? When you say Studio V’s Jay Valgora “hopes to see restaurant and bar crowds enliven the lobby,” does this mean the historic lobby is to be opened up as access to these businesses, or is it to remain a set piece on display behind glass, as every bit of press about the project seems to suggest?

Rather than repeat nonsensical and questionable PR claims, you could do more to validate your “newspaper” name by thinking about what you’re writing, and asking some relevant questions.

SWCphotography
SWCphotography on January 28, 2011 at 6:58 pm

Really 2 separate issues:

1) Constructing apartments at a critical access intersection will only exacerbate the negative impacts on traffic from other slated development activity, while creating a long term congestion problem for an area already burdened with one of the highest rates in NYC.

2) Forever loose the potential that the existing viable steel frame structure offers, as a large event and entertainment center, in addition to putting the landmarked portions at risk. The amount of irreparable auditorium damage is debatable, as the predominant component of the open space was a lot of the same thing: seating; while there is a sufficient amount of interior plaster work to form the basis for a restoration.

You can argue who would pay for restoration (it will never be someone in the business of real estate development), but you can easily determine who has paid for this thing to sit unoccupied for 25 years, in tax revenue and adjacent property value, and in all likelihood continue to be paying for it.

bazookadave
bazookadave on January 28, 2011 at 6:41 pm

I too have considered writing to the new developers to request explanations. It seems like the old Boymelgreen plan is being regurgitated as a smokescreen or to buy time until the real plans are revealed. I do recall Boymelgreen’s web site a couple of years ago showed a dummied-up image of people walking through the ticket lobby with the gallery above it…the walls were shown as blue with the poster containers still mounted on them…which would indicate the lobby would still be there. Now I cannot find that page, and am looking to see if I saved the images. I STILL would love to get into that foyer for photos. It is soooo frustrating!