RKO Keith's Theatre

135-35 Northern Boulevard,
Flushing, NY 11354

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Ed Baxter
Ed Baxter on December 20, 2005 at 5:55 pm

“No wrecking ball can take that from me. Unless of course I am stuck in the head by it. (Sorry couldn’t resist).”

I meant “struck” in the head.

Damn it. I made a really dumb and inappropriate joke and blew it with a misspelling. What a jackass!

Ed Baxter
Ed Baxter on December 20, 2005 at 5:41 pm

I almost wish they would have demolished the Keith’s in 1986 when it originally closed. Having it sit around for 20 years is like having a loved one who is brain-dead, but being kept alive by a machine. Obviously that is a dramatic comparison but it just feels like the inevitable fate of the theater has been dragging on forever. I would have been crushed if they tore it down back in ‘86, but at least it would have offered some sense of closure. The glass curtain around the lobby will just serve as a permanent reminder of the gross mistreatment this once majestic theater has received. The whole thing is a real shame and unfortunately something that happens all too often to landmarks all over the country. The best thing that we can do is just keep all of the great memories we have of this place that meant so much to each of us. As deeply saddened I am about the destruction of the Keith’s, I am thankful for having had it around for me to enjoy when I was a kid. It was such a huge part of my young life and for that I am grateful. No wrecking ball can take that from me. Unless of course I am stuck in the head by it. (Sorry couldn’t resist).

Jeffrey1955
Jeffrey1955 on December 16, 2005 at 3:49 pm

“I would never wish either Donald Manes or Helen Marshall an early death. Or any personal trauma.”

I certainly didn’t mean to imply that I wished anyone an early death. But considering that he’s already long dead, and was apparently largely responsible for allowing Thomas Huang to start destroying the theater, I thought it was an appropriate “memorial.”

judithblumenthal
judithblumenthal on December 16, 2005 at 9:03 am

Helen Marshall seems mainly interested in getting publicity for herself. Perhaps she hopes to eventually become the first black female President of the USA. I read several of the weekly Queens newspapers, and every issue has several photos (and often more) of Marshall at various events. I once e-mailed the editors to limit her photos to one per issue, but I never received any replies, and the Marshall flood continues.
posted by Warren on Dec 16, 2005 at 7:03am

I think they should call it the Donald Manes Memorial Monstrosity.
posted by Jeffrey1955 on Dec 16, 2005 at 7:43am
12/16/05
I would never wish either Donald Manes or Helen Marshall an early death. Or any personal trauma.

However the item about Helen Marshall’s multi-issue, multi- photographic publicity reminded me that the same thing was going on in decades past with multiple photos of Donald Manes in every single issue of a Flushing newspaper when I lived there. How naive do such people think the voters are? Well, judging from what’s happening now, maybe there’s more naivite than is wise and helpful.

Anyway, it is up to those of us who speak their minds to help rescue not only the movie theatres, the landmarks, but most important— the children and young people and everyone else from the simplistic statements and photo opportunities of ambitious politicians. I am waiting to hear from wise politicians who care about all of us. And not just about photo ops. Francesca

VincentParisi
VincentParisi on December 16, 2005 at 5:11 am

Look at Paul Goldberger’s review of the new monstrosity above the Hearst Building on 8th Av in The New Yorker. It is a rave. This is the Times' toady who called the wholesale destruction of Times Square in the 80’s “exhilarating.” People today who have a say or any power over these things are a disaster destroying city life.
Did he ever write an article about the magnificent Rivoli and Criterion and how they needed to be restored and saved? No. How does a blind, corporate shill become an “architectural critic?”

Jeffrey1955
Jeffrey1955 on December 16, 2005 at 4:43 am

I think they should call it the Donald Manes Memorial Monstrosity.

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on December 16, 2005 at 4:03 am

Helen Marshall seems mainly interested in getting publicity for herself. Perhaps she hopes to eventually become the first black female President of the USA. I read several of the weekly Queens newspapers, and every issue has several photos (and often more) of Marshall at various events. I once e-mailed the editors to limit her photos to one per issue, but I never received any replies, and the Marshall flood continues.

NativeForestHiller
NativeForestHiller on December 15, 2005 at 8:14 pm

Sadly, everything revolves around money and politics. This is a horrendous shame!!! They have so much $$$, why couldn’t they have restored/rebuilt the facade in its entirety, & incorporated that into the project? I admire the interior space, but what good is it without the facade? IT’S A HEAD WITH AN EXTRACTED BRAIN!!!!!!!

It is purely ironic as to how society of today supposed to be soooo technologically advanced, but in the meantime, they can’t build with much attention to intricate detail & precision. Today the motto for most buildings is “I’ll throw up a bunch of bricks, glass, steel, and what-not, & build my CONCRETE JUNGLE even higher than the Joneses!”

My friend, Michael Manchiso, I love your “People who pretend to care about landmarks” analogy. Perhaps THEY will be Chuck’s idea of a landmark in generations to come. Nothing reminiscent about a glass curtain!

roadwarrior23249
roadwarrior23249 on December 15, 2005 at 6:42 pm

Any chance of someone possible getting in the building for some final pictures? I read somewhere back that the were an awful lot of murals in the place. It’d be a shame for them to go without being recorded for “befor and after” pics. “World class” give it ten years tops before it looks like a world class mess.

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on December 15, 2005 at 10:24 am

Warren… if you (or anyone else) find out when demolition is set to begin, please post the information here. I’d very much like to see if I can arrange to be in the area when that happens and try to document it as best I can.

judithblumenthal
judithblumenthal on December 15, 2005 at 4:32 am

Re Warren’s very sad last post, not really unexpected, I find it ironic
that the final desecration of the RKO Keith has been approved by the NYC
Board called STANDARDS and APPEALS. Who gave them that name?

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on December 15, 2005 at 4:19 am

A story in the December 14, 2005 issue of the NY Daily News said that the proposed 17-story “world-class” building to replace RKO Keith’s has finally been approved by New York City’s Board of Standards and Appeals after a three-year battle. Presumably, demolition of the auditorium portion of the theatre will begin soon. Portions of the lobby and grand foyer will be preserved and surrounded by a “curtain of glass” in the new building.

roadwarrior23249
roadwarrior23249 on December 13, 2005 at 7:07 pm

The reason the roads were cobblestone as recent as ‘68 is probably because they were in still very good condition. As the years progressed and main st and the surrounding areas were built up, they had to rip up the streets for con ed, sewer and water lines so they went with the cheaper asphalt roads. They looked 100 times better than the roads today but try driving on cobblestone in the snow and rain, with with the amount of traffic in downtown flushing, imagine the accidents?

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on December 8, 2005 at 6:15 am

Wow… I didn’t realize that the cobblestone on Northern Blvd wasn’t paved over at all at this intersection as late as ‘68! I remember as a kid seeing a number of cobblestone streets in Long Island City (where my grandmother worked on Queensboro Plaza). I can also recall many roads from my youth where the macadam pavement had eroded in spots and accidentally exposed the cobblestone and trolley tracks beneath (Junction Blvd and Merrick Blvd spring immediately to mind), but those were usually routinely patched up by the City. Of course, there have always been little pockets (mostly in Manhattan) purposely preserved for historical or economic reasons (South Street Seaport area, some blocks in Greenwich Village)… Were these streets purposely kept this way at the time in downtown Flushing due to the historic nature of the neighborhood?

Jeffrey1955
Jeffrey1955 on December 7, 2005 at 8:19 am

Having finally figured out the uses and intricacies of Photobucket, here’s the June ‘68 exterior photo I described above. Note that I had some color adjustment problems in scanning the transparency, but I’ve at least now gotten it so it’s not entirely blue!
View link

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on December 7, 2005 at 7:30 am

Wow. Great photo once again, Warren. Thanks a lot! I was very, very young when my Mom or Grandfather took me here before it was triplexed, so most of my memories of this theater’s lush interior are from after the conversion. The balcony theater maintained much of it’s beauty, but the proscenium detailing and atomospheric ambeince was lost in the splitting of the orchestra level.

Before the auditorium is completely demolished for the Boymelgreen project, I hope a professional photographer is allowed access to space in order to document whatever ruins remain of the interior.

Bway
Bway on November 29, 2005 at 3:35 pm

Quote:Reading all of these posts has certainly stirred up a feeling of nausea, not quite on a scale with the destruction of Penn Station, but of similar quality.

I have to agree. The destruction of Penn Station is the destruction to end all destruction (perhaps the biggest mistake and vandalism ever done to New York). No theater can ever compare to the destruction of that beautiful building. However, I totally agree, what was done to the Keiths is also nauseating, even if only a few steps behind the destruction of Penn Station in Manhattan.

Jeffrey1955
Jeffrey1955 on November 29, 2005 at 1:48 pm

I’ve found a slide of the exterior of RKO-Keith’s taken June 25, 1968 on the day of my Intermediate School graduation. It is of virtually the exact same angle as the vintage postcard view shown at the top. What is most striking is that, even by 1968, with the theater essentially intact (single screen) and the interior not yet having gone into decline, the exterior had already been horribly diminished. All of the intricate carvings surrounding the windows are gone. The ornate curved arch marquee had been replaced by a generic, boxy marquee. An ugly rectangular two-sided “RKO” sign had been affixed to the center of the facade, sticking out in the middle of the moorish arch at the top; rust stains from the sign ran down to the center window. In short, it’s easy to see why the building’s exterior was not given landmark status: It was already relegated to a nondescript commercial facade by the late 60s.

Jeffrey1955
Jeffrey1955 on November 29, 2005 at 9:45 am

Reading all of these posts has certainly stirred up a feeling of nausea, not quite on a scale with the destruction of Penn Station, but of similar quality. I feel fortunate that my graduation from Intermediate School 61 in Corona was held in this theater in June 1968, so I got to see it in all its glory. Unfortunately, what I also remember is that the joy of our graduation was tempered by the overwhelming fact that Martin Luther King (in April) and Bobby Kennedy (on June 6) had just been assassinated, something that cast a pall over everything at the time. My recollection is that I sat in the balcony and when we received our diplomas, we had to walk down a long series of carpeted stairs to make it to the stage. But we were in awe, sitting up amidst the stars — it was much more impressive than any other graduation I subsequently attended. Somewhere I probably have photos taken at that ceremony, that I’ll have to dig up; not sure how much detail of the interior they would show, but if I find anything I’ll let you know!

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on November 29, 2005 at 7:15 am

Robert R… Scroll up to read Ed Baxter’s haunting description of the Keith’s desecrated interior in his post of February 27th, 2005. It paints a very vivid picture of an unofficial tour of the ruins taken in 1999. I would assume the interior remains today in pretty much the same condition, perhaps a bit worse given any intervening water/exposure damage.

dave-bronx™
dave-bronx™ on November 29, 2005 at 7:10 am

Unfortunately the Keith’s is gone and we might as well get used to it. Even if it was to be 100% restored, those who remember what it was are no longer welcome in this area of Flushing anyway, given the fact that virtually all the businesses in the area have all the signage in Chinese and Korean – no English to be seen. It’s subtle, not overt, but if Americans were welcome there the signs would have some English on them. Sorry for not being PC – but everyone concerned about the restoration or redevelopment of this once-grand movie palace both here on this board and in civic circles have been dancing around this 800 pound gorilla in the middle of the room for 20 years. Those who occupy the area now couldn’t care less about the place, they just want it out of the way so they can have more retail space and more ridiculously priced apartments. The architecture is simply not valued by those who would use it – 4 walls and a roof is all that is needed.

RobertR
RobertR on November 29, 2005 at 5:52 am

Has anyone heard how much of the auditorium is still there?

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on November 29, 2005 at 4:51 am

Here’s a link to an article from February of this year, so nothing new in the text, but check out the small color photo at the top of the page. It shows part of the interior lobby wall (and “landmarked” ornamentation) above the entrance that will have to be obliterated in order to accommodate the glass curtain planned for the site. Looking at this photo just gets me even more steamed over all the self-congratulatory back patting that the local politicians are engaging in over this Boymelgreen development deal. Sure there’ll be some nice detailing and a pair of grand staircases left over from the old foyer to be appreciated by architectural buffs, but the ambience and integrity of the room will be destroyed with that southern wall replaced by a 50 x 100 foot “undulating” window that will flood the place with glaring sunlight. This is not preservation, it is perversion.

View link

Right now, my stomach is undulating…

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on November 1, 2005 at 2:52 pm

I think this quote from Marylin Bitterman, the district manager of Community Board 7, is my favorite:

“We were thrilled when the developer purchased it and decided to develop it while keeping the integrity of the theater and enhancing the landmarked portion of the building”

I may actually bust a gut from laughing at that one.

Here’s the passage that might get people’s hopes up:

“ The site offers tough design problems for many reasons, not least because the theater’s interior, which is landmarked, has been badly trashed. (Though designed by a famous architect, Thomas Lamb, the theater’s exterior was not landmarked at the request of then-borough president Donald Manes, who later committed suicide amid financial scandals.) Calling this part of the site “the egg,” a principal of the V Studio, Jay Valgora, testified that preserving it while trying to build on top of and around it presented him with the “most complex job of sequencing”he had ever faced as an architect.”

This excerpt makes it seem as if the entire interior is landmarked and will be preserved in “the egg.” What is not made clear is that only the lobby is landmarked and not even all of this will survive the alleged “restoration” as the southern wall on the Main Street side of the property will have to be demolished so that the proposed glass curtain facade may allow the lobby interior to be exposed to passersby, as has been part of the design plan for the Boymelgreen project. Anyway, looks like yet another Board meeting and vote will be held tomorrow to finalize everything (for what seems like the 97th time).