RKO Keith's Theatre

135-35 Northern Boulevard,
Flushing, NY 11354

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Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on December 6, 2004 at 10:00 pm

The “green room” was a standard fixture of vaudeville theatres. It was a place for performers to socialize between shows. By the time I worked at Loew’s Valencia in Jamaica in the 1950’s, its “green room” had been converted into storage space for syrups, gas cylinders, and paper cups needed for the soda vending machines. There were two on the main floor and another two on the mezzanine promenade. Soda was not sold at the candy counters, and patrons could not take their drinks into the auditorium with them. They had to consume the soda right away and throw the empty cups in the waste cans next to the machines.

MEB on December 6, 2004 at 8:26 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.

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on November 27, 2004 at 3:57 pm

The same sad story is true of Loew’s Triboro, in Astoria, Queens, which was by the same architect and even larger and more sumptuous. Unlike the case of Keith’s Flushing, the Triboro was quickly demolished with barely a public outcry to make way for stores and housing. Whenever I pass that site today, it still brings tears to my eyes.

Bway on November 27, 2004 at 2:00 am

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 27, 2004 at 12:33 am

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 13, 2004 at 3:55 am

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.

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on November 12, 2004 at 7:14 pm

If your grandfather worked there for over 65 years, when did the theatre close? It first opened on Christmas Day, 1928. Sixty-five years later would have been 1993.

bvdfitness on November 11, 2004 at 2:43 am

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 9:50 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 31, 2004 at 1:14 am

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

br91975 on October 13, 2004 at 1:32 am

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

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on October 10, 2004 at 8:58 pm

A free screening of “What Gatsby Saw,” a new 32-minute documentary that uses vintage photographs to recreate Jay Gatsby’s legendary drive along Northern Boulevard between Long Island and Manhattan, will be held Saturday afternoon, October 16th, at 2:00 PM in the auditorium of the Flushing Library (41-17 Main Street). RKO Keith’s had yet to be built at the time “The Great Gatsby” was published in 1925, but the land site may be visible in the film. Possibly, also the Roosevelt Theatre, further east in Flushing, which was operating by that time.

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on October 3, 2004 at 9:43 pm

I neglected to mention that May 4th, 1955 was the opening day for a double feature of “Man Without a Star” (Kirk Douglas & Jeanne Crain) and “Captain Lightfoot” (Rock Hudson & Barbara Rush). That same day, RKO Keith’s main competition in downtown Flushing, Century’s Prospect, opened with “Three For The Show” (Betty Grable & Jack Lemmon) and “Tight Spot” (Ginger Rogers & Edward G. Robinson).

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on October 1, 2004 at 8:56 pm

On May 4th, 1955, two Flushing HS students were killed and a third person critically injured when an out-of-control car smashed into the theatre’s entrance, narrowly missing the boxoffice but zooming into the first lobby, where it was stopped by a solid stone wall. The car’s owner was also dead, and apparently suffered a heart attack while driving on Northern Boulevard near the theatre. Eyewitnesses claimed the car was going about 50mph when it jumped the sidewalk. Damage to the lobby was minimal, and the 800 patrons in the theatre that afternoon never knew that the accident had happened, according to a report in The New York Times.

StephanieK on September 30, 2004 at 7:50 pm

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 8:15 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.

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on September 14, 2004 at 7:25 pm

The Keith-Albee Flushing opened a week after Proctor’s 58th Street in Manhattan. Both were designed by Thomas Lamb, and became the only RKO theatres in the Greater New York area in the “atmospheric” style.

Bway on September 14, 2004 at 6:56 pm

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

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on September 14, 2004 at 6:46 pm

To the best of my knowledge, this was never known as “Keith’s Theatre.” When it first opened in December, 1928, it was the Keith-Albee Flushing Theatre. When Keith-Albee theatres were absorbed into RKO Theatres, the name was changed to RKO-Keith’s Flushing. Informally, regular patrons usually called it RKO Keith’s, or Keith’s Flushing.

BoxOfficeBill on September 14, 2004 at 6:23 pm

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.

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on September 9, 2004 at 9:44 pm

These are some of the programs that were shown at Keith’s Flushing in 1952, the last year that I ever attended the theatre:
“The Racket” & “Behave Yourself"
"Fixed Bayonets” & “Let’s Make It Legal"
"Come Fill The Cup” & “Bride of the Gorilla"
"Golden Girl” & “The Lady Pays Off"
"Anne of the Indies” & “Assassin For Hire"
"I’ll See You In My Dreams” & “The Tanks Are Coming"
"Double Dynamite” & “Slaughter Trail"
"Decision Before Dawn” & “Love Nest"
"The Model and the Marriage Broker” & “Journey Into Light"
"I Want You” & “St. Benny, The Dip"
"Room For One More” & “On Dangerous Ground"
"Five Fingers” & “Return of the Texan"
"Viva Zapata” & “Close To My Heart"
"Bright Victory” & “Weekend With Father"
"Deadline USA” & “Japanese War Bride"
"This Woman Is Dangerous” & “Bugles in the Afternoon"
"With A Song In My Heart” & “Hoodlum Empire"
"Bend of the River” & “Meet Danny Wilson"
"Belles On Their Toes” & “Loan Shark"
"Kangaroo” & “No Room For The Groom"
"Lydia Bailey” & “Models, Inc."
"Diplomatic Courier” & “Outcasts of Poker Flat"
"The Winning Team” & “3 For Bedroom C"
"Jack and The Beanstalk” & “San Francisco Story"
"We’re Not Married” & “Rancho Notorious"
"She’s Working Her Way Through College” & “Carson City"
"Don’t Bother To Knock” & “Wait Till The Sun Shines, Nellie"
"The Story of Robin Hood” & “Half Breed"
"Dreamboat” & “The Lady in the Iron Mask"
"What Price Glory?” & “Has Anybody Seen My Gal?"
"Where’s Charley?” & “Beware My Lovely"
"Monkey Business” & “Night Without Sleep"
"The Crimson Pirate” & “Sally and St. Ann"
"The Big Sky” & “Captain Blackjack"
"Les Miserables” & “My Wife’s Best Friend"
"One Minute to Zero” & “Lost in Alaska"
"Big Jim McLain” & “The Thief"
"The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima” & “The Rose Bowl Story"
"The Lusty Men” & “Battle Zone"
"Bloodhounds of Broadway” & “Toughest Man in Arizona"
"The Iron Mistress” & “It Grows on Trees"
"The Snows of Kilimanjaro” & “The Raiders"
It should be noted that in those days, the RKO Circuit played mainly Warner Bros., 20th Fox, RKO, Buena Vista, and Universal releases, and never MGM, Paramount, or other companies that had exclusives with the Loew’s Circuit. Also, 1952 was a low-quality year for Hollywood product, which is probably why most of the movies I mentioned are forgotten today.

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on September 3, 2004 at 4:42 pm

Somewhere recently, I saw it mentioned that the fountain that was once the centerpiece of the grand lobby is now believed to be in a restaurant in Greenwich Village. Does anyone know the name of that restaurant? I’d like to go there to check. I saw the fountain many times and would recognize it instantly. The restaurant would have to be fairly large to accommodate it.

cb229 on August 27, 2004 at 1:55 am

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 25, 2004 at 6:32 am

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 25, 2004 at 6:10 am

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.