RKO Keith's Theatre

135-35 Northern Boulevard,
Flushing, NY 11354

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Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on December 27, 2004 at 4:20 pm

What a cheap way to do business. Huang will get his. What goes around comes around…though not always as fast as you might like.

trapdoor on December 24, 2004 at 9:07 pm

Its a long and sorted story, but in a nutshell
I suggest you read this article:
View link
and look at the section called demolition by neglect.Thomas Huang, who purchased the Keiths in 1986, was a very big contributor to politicial campaigns.He contributed to the crooked Donald Manes and subsequently received many favors.Manes successfully brokered a deal
which allowed the lobby to be landmarked and the rest of the theater to be converted into retail space.Thus satisfying those lobbying for preservation and any developer that wanted to purchase the theater for future conversion to retail space.I dont know what year the deal was brokered.Manes obviously knew that the developers wanted to get their hands on the theater sooner or later and he wanted to satisfy them.Huang purchased the theater in 1986 and closed it very quickly.His horrendous neglect as well as deliberate acts have led to the demise of this gem.Yes, it is too late to save the rest of the building.All of the auditorium space is a wasteland.Its water logged and falling apart.Huang removed a portion of a backwall, partially exposing the interior to the elements.It would take many tens of millions to restore the building with out any real hope for recouping that investment and making a profit.No developer is going to take that on.

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on December 6, 2004 at 5:28 pm

I am all for saving part of a theater when you can’t save the whole thing…that is a reality of the modern world. But, why isn’t the whole building being reused, if it has such a place in community history? I’ve seen pictures of the inside…and it looks beat up. But, no more beat up than other buildings that have been restored.

MEB on December 6, 2004 at 12:26 pm

I worked at the RKO Keith’s between 1977 and 1979. Although it had already been in decline by then, the place still had a magical quality about it. I got to know virtually every inch of that building. Aside from the beauty of the architecture, it was a very interesting building behind the scenes. There was a corridor in the basement that had twists and turns and staircases. There were numerous rooms for support staff and mechanical equipment. As the building engineer, I got to operate the antique air-conditioning equipment which included the “air-washer”, the very large main fans and the old recipricating refrigeration machines. If I remember correctly, there were a total of 12 dressing rooms back stage, each was named for a city – the Akron Room, the Boston Room, the Rochester Room, etc. My understanding is that the rooms were named for cities that were part of the Keith’s-Albee circuit. There was also the green room and something called the elephant bath, or the animal room. It was a larrge porcelain tiled room under the back of the stage which had a ramp leading down to it. As the name implies, it was apparently used to wash animals that were used in stage shows. There was a great feeling of camaraderie among the workers. I became good freinds with a number of people, some of whom I am still friends with today. I recall a few people meeting their future wives/husbands while working there as candy-girls and ushers. I am very grateful for the wonderful memories. It really is a terrible shame what has happened to the Keith’s. Hopefully, the new owners will be able to incorporate the inner lobby into their new design.

Bway on November 26, 2004 at 6:00 pm

As a resident of College Point throughout the late 1960’s and 1970’s, and as a student of fine art and art history, I would like to say that this is indeed one of the most tragic cases of New York City architecture neglect and waste I have witnessed.

I have to agree with you. The only other tragic waste of architecture I can think of that is even worse was the tragic destruction of the original Penn Station in 1964. THAT was a sin that such a phenominal building was destroyed. This is a close sin though.

Karinb on November 26, 2004 at 4:33 pm

As a resident of College Point throughout the late 1960’s and 1970’s, and as a student of fine art and art history, I would like to say that this is indeed one of the most tragic cases of New York City architecture neglect and waste I have witnessed. I remember distinctly the magic conveyed by the atmospheric Moorish interiors, including the awesome lobby, (with it’s lady’s lounge, the furniture of which was still upholstered in the same faded red velvet which I could tell was the original fabric),the stunning fountain, the impressive stairs to either side, leading to the incredible auditorium, which gave many of us our only in person view of “Moorish architecture”, with it’s beautiful arched niches, the amazing starlit ceiling, including clouds that moved in wisps across the sky, the beautiful shades of blue the sky transitioned through on its way to nighttime black…What could be more magical? The movie I was going to see was definitely a secondary concern compared with just being in the theatre. I attended Kay’s Dance Studio a few blocks away, and their Recitals were always held there at the Keith’s. One of the most special moments of my entire life has been the time I accompanied my sister to the dressing area of the theatre to prepare for the nighttime recital, in the very downstairs (?) dressing areas that had been used by people in vaudeville all those years ago. This would be in 1976, when I was 12 years old. My mother, sister and I were led through the labyrinth that comprised the backstage areas to a long, narrow room that had been used by the chorus girls in their day, to prepare for their shows. The room was furnished with a long row of separate dressing tables pushed against the wall, a mirror hung on the wall above each table, and the little bench seats each table had in front of it was covered in the same faded red velvet to be found in the Ladies Lounge off the lobby. To my vivid 12 year old imagination, raised as I was on Late Night TV black & white musicals, I could feel the energy and spirit of those long gone chorus girls. How I do regret that my mother did not photograph those girls in that very special room that night in June. Perhaps Kay’s Dance Studio Alumnis have some interesting pictures to share?

bvdfitness on November 12, 2004 at 7:55 pm

Sorry, should have been 55 years not 65. My grandfather retired before the theatre closed so I have no idea when it finally shut down.

bvdfitness on November 10, 2004 at 6:43 pm

My grandfather was the projectionist at the Keiths for over 65 years. He was there at the opening and for the next 6 decades. I spent alot of my childhood being able to roam all over the theatre. Many of the original vaudeville artifacts were still in place. I remember the trap doors in the stage, the Green room (which was in fact green), and the labyrnth of other rooms throughout the theatre. In the basement was an “air washer” that cleaned the air before it entered the theatre. I had the priviledge to meet many of my boyhood idols, Mohammad Ali, Adam West (Batman), Howard Cosells, and others that would make the rounds to promote their movies or events. It’s a shame that the theatre is in the shape it is now. If anyone knows of photos of the exterior or interior I would love to purchase a copy.

movieman69 on November 10, 2004 at 1:50 am

I had loved this theater the most out of all the neighborhood movie houses, such as The Prospect which was up Main Street and the Quartet on Northern.
The Keiths bring back very haunting memories when I see It today standing like the tomb It Is.
I can remember the place as if I stepped into the lobby yesterday and kind of brings a slight tear of sadness to know It will never be alive again as it once was.
I remember seeing the 70’s horror film “Bug”, one of the Sinbad films before it became a triplex and do remember that big water fountain that stood in the lobby.
The sound which echoed through the auditorium in this theater was amazing and also another haunting memory.
When it became a triplex I always hoped that the movie I was going to see was featured in cinema 1 being the top floor that was once the balcony. That room was fantastic it had a feeling as if you were sitting in an out door stadium in some weird far off land.
I remember these two big chandeliers that hung on each side of the room’s entrance and the blue night sky above the coliseum walls.
I saw so many films here; Andy warhols “Frankenstein” in 3D, “Saturday Night Fever”, “The Omen”, “Grease”, “star Wars”, “Alien”, “Friday the 13th”, “Airplane”, all of the mel brooks films at the time and many double bills that would play …sooo many.
“Running Scared” was my last film to see at this great place.
I miss it still ever since it’s closing in ‘86 :(
I would love to be able to go inside and look around at it now to see the ghosts that linger.

sdoerr on October 30, 2004 at 6:14 pm

This is one of the worst stories of neglect I have seen.
Shame on that man

br91975 on October 12, 2004 at 5:32 pm

As depressing a sight as they’d provide, I wonder if any photos exist of the Keith’s auditorium in its present state…

StephanieK on September 30, 2004 at 11:50 am

I remember spending one long day there with my little sisters watching “The Green Berets” and leaving them alone to wander upstairs to make crank phone calls from their “London-style” telephone booth. I wonder what ever became of that. This theater was the coolest place to spend the whole day watching some great movie. Growing up in College Point in the 60’s I saw everything there and we called it The Keith’s. It was magnificent then and I am sick to think that it met so ignoble an end. That lobby rivaled anything Disney could even contemplate for a Great Movie Ride! How sad.

dave-bronx™ on September 14, 2004 at 12:15 pm

Several life-long New Yorkers I knew in the 80s called it ‘da Keets'
never mentioning Flushing, and everyone knew what they were talking about.

Bway on September 14, 2004 at 10:56 am

That was also probably as to not to get it confused with the RKO Keith’s Richmond Hill. Many people confuse the two.

BoxOfficeBill on September 14, 2004 at 10:23 am

Thanks, Warren, for the nicely researched double-bills. Yes, ‘52 was a flop. I’m shocked to realize that I’d seen only two of those billings day-dating at my local nabe (RKO Dyker)that year, even though memory has tricked me into thinking that as a movie-mad ten-year-old I went to the Dyker nearly every week. (I did see six of those features at other theaters, however, some first-run in Manhattan, others third- or subsequent-run in B'klyn.) One downside of seeing films first-run in Manhattan was missing some curious co-features that have meanwhile achieved cult-status: “Rancho Notorious,” “Three for Bedroom C,” “The Thief,” “Beware My Lovely.” One surprise is the reversal of status that sometimes happened in double-billing: that year, “Wait till the Sun Shines Nellie” was a prestige opener at the Roxy (with an ice show on stage!), while “Don’t Bother to Knock” snuck into the Globe: then Monroe became a sensation, so that “Don’t Bother” (deservingly)got top billing when it reached the boroughs. And what a sad end to Irene Dunne’s fame to go out on a second-billing in “It Grows on Trees.” For the record, the two programs that I saw at RKO were “Les Mis” & “Wife’s Best Friend” on a chilly, rainy autumn day (late in the year, implying that I hadn’t been in that theater for at least ten months!) and “Snows of Kilimanjaro” & “Raiders,” which I recall as the Christmas-week show (and remember darkly for having eaten popcorn, the first time ever, which made me sick later that evening—uugh). I’m sure that I saw many, many more films at the Loew’s circuit that year. For RKO, yes, '52 was a bummer.

cb229 on August 26, 2004 at 5:55 pm

I have searched high and low for photos, but there isnt
much available, as the theater was locked up for so many years.
Here is a two page article about the current state of
the theater with info. about the upcoming changes.It also
has a small picture of the lobby.
View link
The auditorium is going to be demolished as it is in horrendous
condition.The moron who owned it for almost twenty years
tore out a crucial wall, leaving the theater partially exposed
to the elements, thus the massive destruction.The lobby and mezzanine will be saved an incorporated into RKO Plaza which is
scheduled for completion in 2006.

longislandmovies on August 24, 2004 at 10:32 pm

CINEPLEX was the company that saved the movie bsns in N.Y. and many other places.Not until CINEPLEX ODEON come along was anyone restoring or putting any money into theaters.

dave-bronx™ on August 24, 2004 at 10:10 pm

The RKO-CW people sold this theatre just days before they sold the rest of the company to Cineplex. When The Grand Pooh-bah of Cineplex found out he went to the guy who bought it and offered him the sun, the moon and the stars to buy it back, but was refused. While I generally view Cineplex and The Grand Pooh-bah with contempt for ruining so many decent theatres New York, I will admit that on these big old palaces they did do a decent job of restoration [e.g. the lobby of the Loew’s Met in Brooklyn]. This would have been one that I would have been glad to see him take over.

It’s a shame that the slimeball who let the Keith’s deteriorate wasn’t jailed years ago for his disregard of the landmarks law. And the City of New York is culpable for letting him get away with it. The City could have declared eminant domain and bought it from this guy and sell it to someone committed to restoration, like Cineplex.

Bway on August 24, 2004 at 6:01 pm

Much has been talked about here about the lobby of the Keith’s. Any word on what the main auditorium’s condition is in? From what I gather it’s not that great of condition, maybe even totally trashed. Does anything remain of the walls or ceiling, or anything? I would love to see photos of the Keith’s both in it’s heyday or current shambles, anyone know of any available on the net?

sticky on August 23, 2004 at 10:42 am

I rememmber attending my first Rock n Roll show at the Flushing RKO. It was emceed by Murray the K deejay from 1010 WINS. The show featured Wicked Wilson Pickett and introduced two new bands from England, Cream and The Who. I remember Pickett strutting up the aisles with his mike cable trailing behind singing “Funky Broadway” and “Midnight Hour”. Cream and the Who did only a couple of numbers and were LOUD and raw but pumped up the crowd.

shalow on July 15, 2004 at 4:03 pm

I remember going to the rock and roll shows at the Keiths. What a great memory and theater. Going to a show was truly and event.

trapdoor on June 30, 2004 at 8:32 pm

The Keiths continues to stand tall and proud at the juncture
of Main and Northern.However,
its in absolute shambles at this point.The theater
portion of the building is in total disrepair and is
going to be torn down by Boymelgreen Developers to make
way for residential building and some retail.The lobby
is in bad shape but restoreable.It has landmark status
and will be restored to its original glory.It will be
incorporated into the new structure.It is a very slow process
as Boymelgreen is working with community officials to
come up with the best possible plan for the site.The last plan
was rejected due to its size and scale.Here is good story on the
condition of the lobby.Although its been bruised and battered
by years of neglect and deliberate actions by the former owner of the property,it is in suprisingly good shape.Here’s the article:
View link

FrankCastle on May 17, 2004 at 4:22 pm

The idiot who destroyed the interior of that theatre should be hung on main street! What a disaster. That place should have been preserved with landmark status and made into a museum. What a great place to watch a movie. Of course most of the people who live there now weren’t around, probably not even in this COUNTRY, when it was open. What a sad, sad outcome for such a glorious palace…

exny1 on May 16, 2004 at 11:45 am

thanks Warren, your right, it was Pitkin, on Pitkin Ave.

exny1 on May 15, 2004 at 8:14 pm

I was there many many times, it was a beautiful theater. When I was a kid, 50’s 60’s, during intermission the sky would actually move, or atleast look liked it moved. Years later, it had stopped and the theater owner told me it was in need of repair. My mom told me there was a theater in brooklyn, long since closed that did the same thing. I think it was the Pickford ave?? Not sure, anyway, the Fluching Keith’s was and still is the best theater I have ever been in.