Kings Theatre

1027 Flatbush Avenue,
Brooklyn, NY 11226

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jflundy on April 7, 2004 at 1:54 am

Loews Kings opened on Friday September 6, 1928. It was built on the site of a seasonal outdoor movie park and the Flatbush BRT trolley depot and storage yard dating back to the 1890’s.

The site became available when a new carbarn and yards were opened, located at Avenue N and Utica Avenue in Flatlands. The Marcus Loew organization was seeking to expand his theater circuit and the Kings was to be one of the new “Wonder” theaters in the NYC metropolitan area.

After the Kings was built,the Cortelyou Road trolley, which began its run at the old depot,had to make a switchback on Flatbush Avenue to run south,
turning west onto Cortelyou

Road at the Century Rialto Theter and proceeding to Gravesend Avenue and then north to Church Avenue near the Beverly Theater.

The Kings feature vaudville with live orchestra, a large organ (Morton if I recall correctly) and silent movies. It was the number one Flatbush theater and was jammed with long lines of patrons waiting for seats in the vast lobby with brass railings and velvet ropes channeling the waiting throngs into multiple lanes.

In 1930 the Cortelyou trolleys were replaced by new electric trolley buses and added further glamour to the area which was well served by public transit. Despite this the patronage started dropping off as the Great Depression began.

In the eary ‘30’s the theater had been showing talkies for a few years and vaudville was dropped in favor of a straight movie policy.In 1935 double features became standard. Throughout the 30’s, Erasmus Hall High School, located up Flatbush Avenue next to the Astor Theater, held its graduations in the theater on Saturday mornings. The organ was prominently featured in the ceremonies with one of the music teachers ( can no longer recall his name) performing in a quite grand manner.

The orchestra was quite large, being very long and dived half way down to the stage by a transverse asile. The balcony was very small and on the whole the layout of the auditorium was similar the Brooklyn Paramount.

Attendance picked up in the late 30’s and boomed during WW2. Around 1947 the marquee and vertical were updated spoiling the exterior harmony with a garish if spectacular look. The vertical was huge and had a brillant neon effect changing from gold to silver and impossible to miss from far up the avenue.

Patronage began declining slightly in 1951 but was still good in 1953 after which a downward slide began. I was in the orchestra on a Wednesday afternoon in 1957 seated by the center aisle at the east side in the first row to the rear of transverse asile waiting for the show to start; I looked around and saw only two other people in the huge house. I sensed that things had really changed and wondered how long would the theater last. Shortly, four men came down the asile wearing suits, one the manager. I could hear them speaking as they approached me. They stopped at the asiles intersection. One man said to the manager that the theater was clean but the beauty was somewhat faded. The manager said it hadn’t had a coat of paint in 29 years. Another said that it was too bad but don’t expect it. Apparantly this group was a corporate survry team checking out the house.

At this time there was still a newsreel but that soon stopped.

RobertR on March 31, 2004 at 3:27 pm

It was Loews to the day it closed.

Orlando on March 31, 2004 at 1:39 pm

On Wednesdays, in my high school days at Erasmus Hall, on lunch breaks of 40 minutes I would walk down Flatbush Ave. South and check out the openings at Brandt’s Astor, Fox-Eastern’s Albemarle, Loew’s Kings and Century' Rialto at Cortelyou Road. I’d crossed the street
and return checking all the fronts of the marquees ending up at the RKO Kenmore. All except the Kings and Rialto, still had 8"x10" stills and one sheet display cases. Lunches varied from Chock Full O'Nuts, Woolworth’s, the Jewish Deli accross the street from the Kings, and Jahn’s. (However, never at Garfield’s. The Granada where I worked from 1970-75 I saw on the way to school and home. I went to all the theatres from 1967-1975. I never thought they would all be gone. Loew’s Kings and Century’s Rialto in 1977, the Astor in 1978, the Granada in 1983, the Albemarle in 1986 and the Kenmore in 1999.
At least the Jehovah’s Witness' have taken very good care of the Albemarle. The Rialto must look the same way as far as the inside goes and the Kings just sits there. Three out of six is not bad. The Granada is a Rite-Aid, the Astor is a dollar store and the poor Kenmore was totally gutted including the restored lobby so that it can’t be used as a theatre, Onex (LoewsCineplex) saw to that.

RobertR on March 31, 2004 at 11:47 am

By location alone, a restored Brooklyn Paramount stands a better chance of survival then a restored Kings. Downtown is on an upswing, with talks of moving a pro basketball team there. Flatbush would be a harder sell. Dont get me wrong, I was in the Kings a few times as a kid, my aunt lived there before she married my uncle. As a kid I remember gasping as I walked in the door. It is a sad statement about NY but we tear down everything. You mentioned we have a lot of theatres but we have more Zeigfelds then we do Roxys.

JimRankin on March 31, 2004 at 11:14 am

$50 million is a small estimate for the extensive work needed to fix this wonderful 2-½ acres of seats in a six story high auditorium. The 4-story-high draperies that once made the looming walls look less foreboding would require the building of an assembly barn for this scale of work, since the old drapery houses that could do such work are long gone, and those few existing today do not have the perspective, experience, or talent to reproduce such monumental work, and if they could, it would cost at least $5,000,000 for just the draperies alone! (Craftspeople today will not work for the 25 cents per hour that they did in the Twenties!) And even if you could find someone willing to risk about $75 to 100 million on this space, where would the parking for the thousands attending come from?? (Americans are not in the habit of walking, even from a bus stop on the corner!) Perhaps there is available land adjacent that could be purchased, and perhaps the city would allow a parking structure to be built there, but that would add considerably to the cost. Reportedly, the electric company will not even turn on the power until someone pays the big back bills of the former operator, and the problems mount up from there. Yes, the KINGS was a most glorious movie palace, but unless TV and videos somehow disappear tomorrow, there is not likely to be found anywhere an audience large enough and CONSISTANT enough to support the theatre, which would be taxed again just as soon as a private party got ownership from the city. We must face the fact that the only reason it still stands today is that the city doesn’t want to spend upwards of $10 million to have it demolished, though they may have to do that if it becomes a refuge for undesirables in deteriorating conditions, as it inevitably will with time.

Will the equally wonderful BROOKLYN PARAMOUNT become available in a condition that enables it to be restored? I fervently hope so, but many of the same problems confront that situation as confront the KINGS. Where will the THOUSANDS of people come from to support the place? It is tax free now, but it is highly unlikely that it will remain so under new conditions! And taxes are just one of the expenses such huge facilities face, since just to pay for the utilities for a year would bankrupt the average business. (For example, few movie palaces had any insulation in the walls and ceilings to contain heat, so heating costs would be astronomical). The only real hope is for a ‘sugar daddy’ such as Donald Trump who presumably wouldn’t care if he lost millions each year, since he would be so in love with the place that he would keep it just for nostalgia and as a public monument to a day and age when people cared about such things and would support them with their hard-earned money. Now the people spend for rock spectacles and sporting events, not theatres, and even the much smaller, and therefore much more efficient theatres are in a financial bind as our culture degenerates, and people no longer support the arts in sufficient numbers to maintain them in any large scale.

For those of you in love with the KINGS, there was a documentary released in 1979 called “Memoirs of a Movie Palace” as a photographic tour of the KINGS, and it may be possible to find it in some library. Through such, it may be possible to relive some of those days of lost glory, but don’t hold your breath about reviving any such behemoths in our crass, and expensive, day and age. Unlike most cities, New York already has an abundance of theatres, and it is highly unlikely that the tax payers there will vote to pay to maintain another one.

P.S. The KINGS is one of my favorite theatres, simply from having seen it in photos and the documentary, so I am not being negative, simply realistic, sad to say. Oh to have a ‘time machine’ to be able to travel back to those days of architectural majesty!

garry on March 30, 2004 at 9:52 pm

It would be a gift to Brooklyn to re-open this wonderful movie palace. A group should be formed such as the friends of the Loews in Jersey City, who are doing miracles in their restoration, to take over the Kings and revive it. The rebirth of this palace would be a true cultural gift for current and future generations. Who currently owns this theater?

Marcus on February 23, 2004 at 11:14 am

Could be good news for the Kings: The New York Times recently did an article on the Ditmas/Flatbush area in their “If You’re Thinking of Living In” series. Many people priced out of Park Slope are moving south of the park, into the lovely single Victorian homes in the area. I have driven around there and it is definitely more gentrified, diverse and safe than it was about 5 years ago when I lived nearby. Would be fantastic if the theater followed in the footsteps of the Loews Jersey, and became a focal point for the community.

Mike326 on February 9, 2004 at 9:12 pm

And as I understand it, the gymnasium for LIU is the auditorium for the former Brooklyn Paramount, and that is, I imagine, unlikely to change.
As far as the Kings…
its for me very interesting that it has stayed intact as a building for so long, as opposed to other movie palaces which have either been demolished or turned into stores, etc.
I am forever hoping, that the grand Kings will be restored.

VincentParisi on February 9, 2004 at 1:10 pm

Warren this is major news for historic preservationists. I imagine though that Brooklyn Collge will want to sell the land and make a nice chunk of money for itself. A condo high-rise will do very nicely there. I guess Brooklyn historical societies should take note or this will diappear before you can blink. But how much is left of the theater?

bruceanthony on February 9, 2004 at 1:04 pm

I was on a theatre conclave in NYC in 2002. I felt that Loews Kings even in its current condition was the most magnificient treasure on our tour. It took my breath away to see such a beautiful theatre. All the great Times Square movie palaces are now gone and I hope both the Paramount and the Kings can be saved. My hope is the City of New York would spend enough money to keep the theatre stablized until there are the funds to restore Loews Kings one of the Loews Wonder Theatres. Manhattan due to broadway has restored many of it legit houses but I have yet to see the city Restore one of there movie palaces the way other cities have. Radio City Music Hall was restored by a private company and is a unique venue.brucec

Mike326 on February 9, 2004 at 10:24 am

I believe that it can. It would be a mega-project to say the least, but I just hate that such a beautiful and grand theater with potential, just sits dormant for so long.
I dont know if youre familiar with San Francisco, but alot of the theaters there have been restored, I wish they would do the same here. Do you know the Bay ara of SF ?

Mike326 on February 8, 2004 at 8:28 pm

Dear Warren, having lived in Flatbush for over 40 years, I would like to correct you that in fact it has become a thriving bustling neighborhood with many new stores and business, catering to the large West Indian community which predominates. The demise of that neighborhood was a fast and disturbing one which occured right after the 1977 blackout, which wiped out many theaters, and many business'.
About ten or so years ago, the neighborhood began a gradual turn around, and many new business' began to open , including many National chain stores. Now, it is once again very busy.
The Kings would be IDEAL an entertainment center catering to the community, and, for that matter, everyone else, especially with the huge parking lot of Sears just behind it.
But, like you mentioned, it’s a matter of money and investors. I guess we can only be hopefull!
Best Regards
Best Regards

rondanto on February 7, 2004 at 11:29 pm

The Loews Kings on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn was THE showplace of
Flatbush. It was like Broadway in Brooklyn. I saw many wonderful films ,mainly from the MGM library there, “Quo Vadis”, “Ben Hur"
and "King of Kings” 1961 just to name a few. I miss it so much.

Vlad J Greenpoint
Vlad J Greenpoint on January 31, 2004 at 8:45 pm

In 1995 a scene from Sleepers was filmed there, that was where Rizzo’s brother was headquartered.They filmed the exterior and interior during this portion of filming.

ERD on January 31, 2004 at 11:45 am

In 1974, The Kings theatre reopened for a special show. The main feature was BLAZING SADDLES. Towards the end of the film,
the projector caught on fire… The Morton “Wonder Organ” was workable through the 1960’s. It was removed from the theatre shortly before or after the theatre closed… Graduation ceremonies for New Utrecht High School was held at this theatre in 1960.

Mike326 on January 12, 2004 at 10:53 am

A new roof was put on the Kings about ten or so years ago, to prevent extreme damage to the interior, and it has proven to be effective more the most part.
However, there is serious leak in the auditorium, down near stage left, which has caused considerable damage to that section.
The Kings is still able to be restored, and from what I understand, it is not a lost case.

VincentParisi on January 12, 2004 at 8:22 am

I had heard that the interior is beyond being saved due to neglect and exposure to the elements(rain leaking in, etc.) Does anybody know if this is true or not?

Mike326 on January 11, 2004 at 11:17 pm

From what I have heard, the multiplex plan has fallen through, and the Kings is still in the hands of the city.
The Kings is, in my opinion, the most beautiful theater in Brooklyn, and one of the most beautiful movie palaces anywhere.
Having grown up in Flatbush, it was also such a thrill to see the marquee all lit up at night, and the huge verticle neon LOEW’S sign, spelling out the name.
The one thing I remember in the massive auditorium, were giant baroque murals, and sinister satyr figures surrounding the exits down on either side of the stage.
I have many memories of going to see many movies there, including
“What’s Up Doc”?, “2001: Space Odyssey”, “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore”, and the lastly, “Marathon Man” in the winter of 1977, the same year it closed.
The Kings is a true treasure, and its depressing to see it dark and abandoned for so many years, but at least it still stands, and the interior remains.

Carl on November 6, 2003 at 10:33 am

I went to the Kings theatre in the 70’s, while visiting an aunt in the area. I the manager was a very kind woman who showed me all over the building when she saw my interest in it. I remember the huge entrance lobby, and the inner lobby with its bronze statues and walnut panelling. The upstairs ladies lounge, and the newel posts on the staircases to the balcony were art deco in style, everything else was a gorgeous french baroque. I hope someone renovates this theatre and reopens it without destroying its integrity. It would be a real loss to Brooklyn if this one gets away.

theatrefan on November 2, 2003 at 11:47 am

The Kings Theatre opened on September 7, 1929 on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn. Designed by Rapp and Rapp, the lavish auditorium seated 3,600 and featured a mammoth dome high above the audience. Extensive use of walnut paneling and carved walnut columns along with deep, rich colors and heavily gilded ornamentation created an opulent scene for theatre patrons.

philipgoldberg on April 10, 2003 at 4:36 pm

Scaffolding currently covers the theater’s facade, so i wonder if something is going on here.

MarkW on November 6, 2002 at 12:27 am

The 5 Loews Wonder Theaters were: 175th Street, Paradise, Jersey, Valencia and Kings. While great theaters, The Pitkin and the 72nd Street were not part of the “Wonder Theater” group.

philipgoldberg on October 24, 2002 at 9:32 am

The Kings was one of the five Loews Wonder Theaters (175th Street, Valencia, Pitkin, and 72nd Street were the other four). It had a small shelf balcony and a grand lobby with a curving staircase. At one time there was even a basketball court in the basement for the staff. A scene from “Sophie’s Choice” was filmed in the theater but unfortunately wound up on the cutting room floor.

SamSchad on October 12, 2001 at 3:49 pm

The LOEW’S KINGS in Brooklyn may see a new life as the Magic Johnson theatre chain plans a $30-million project to turn it into a 12-screen house. Theatre has been closed since 1977 and only used once in a great while as a location for film shoots. It remains untouched. Article appeared in The New York Times on 3/24/99.