Mixed-Use Project Gets OK at Flushing’s RKO Keith’s Site

posted by btkrefft on December 14, 2005 at 6:26 am

FLUSHING, QUEENS, NY — The Board of Standards and Appeals in New York City has, after three years, approved the construction of a seventeen-story tower on the site of the former RKO Keith’s Theatre, according to the New York Daily News. The project will include 200 apartments, a senior citizen center, retail space, and parking. Construction is expected to take about a year and a half.

The 1927 RKO Keith’s grand lobby and foyer area, declared a city landmark in 1984, and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, will be restored and fronted by a “curtain of glass” to allow passersby to view the interior. Former theater owner Thomas Huang was fined for bulldozing part of the lobby’s grand staircase. Huang allowed the theater to fall into disrepair.

Councilman John Liu said, “The formerly majestic RKO Keith’s Theatre, which has long symbolized the gateway to northeast Queens, will no longer be a blight and embarrassment to our community”.

Borough President Helen Marshall, speaking in front of the theater said, “Today, we are here to acknowledge all the hard work and meetings…that shaped a mixed-use development that makes sense and benefits such an important location in Queens”.

Theaters in this post

Comments (8)

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on December 14, 2005 at 6:40 am

Bah, humbug! Go to the Keith’s page here and read the comments. This is vandalism under the guise of preservation. Sure there’ll be some interesting architectural elements to be seen and appreciated by passersby and people who enter the building, but it seems to me that all sense of space will be destroyed by the development as currently planned. Unfortunately, landmark protection – at least in this particular case – does not extend to ambience and utility, only to the bricks and mortar (which in this case will at least be partially demolished to make way for that “curtain of glass” anyway).

RobertR on December 14, 2005 at 8:04 am

I think it will look tacky and out of place amid all that glass and steel. I hate to say this but just tear it down and let’s remember it the way it was. Let’s save the Kings instead.

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on December 14, 2005 at 12:24 pm

I’ve seen recent pictures of the building. I think calling it a blight and an embarrassment is going too far. I understand that the interior is in poor condition. From the outside it simply looks like a shuttered theatre. In fact, this thing they want to build seems like more of a blight to me. Robert is right. Why save three lobby walls. It’s an insult to the preservation community and the Keith’s Theatre.

JimRankin on December 15, 2005 at 4:17 am

While we all would like to see the KEITH’S preserved in toto, it is apparent that that will not happen, so I believe that if the lobby remnant is TASTEFULLY integrated into the new structure, it will help our posterity to see the real grandeur that was once part of their heritage. Perhaps partial preservations like this will goad the younger generations to more prize that which they might otherwise lose. Perhaps there will be another theatre there or anywhere else where people of that day will recall this preserved remnant, and say, ‘No, we will not allow it to happen again.’ I hear that that is the sentiment these days in San Francisco after that famous poster was made showing the demolition bursting through the fabulous FOX’S auditorium wall rallied so many to its defense at the eleventh hour. Sad to say, that rallying did hot prevail, but it may have made them reluctant to throw away so much notable history again. So may this reminder in Flushing do this for that part of the world.

And, after all, seeing a photo is not the same as appreciating the huge scale of the palaces, and this remainder of that palace will let youngsters appreciate the enormity of their —and our— loss.

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on December 15, 2005 at 6:45 am

I have to admit, begrudgingly, that I’d rather save this small piece of the Keith’s than see it completely erased from existence. It just saddens me that this once magnificent showplace has been sitting there in the most conspicuous of locations and allowed to rot and decay for the last 19 years while an assortment of self-serving politicians, greedy real estate developers and oily attorneys have been cutting back-room deals to seal the old gal’s fate.

The theater is lost. Period. What is to remain will offer a feeble hint of the grandeur that once was the RKO Keith’s â€" and then only really in the minds of those of us who can recall first hand how this remnant fit in contextually with the rest of the theater. It makes a mockery of the unfortunate LPC decision to designate only the lobby and grand foyer by failing even to honor the limited scope of its mandate for preservation. I have no choice but to accept this fate and I suppose that I can take some solace in the fact that it at least leaves me with a place where I can stand and gaze into the past using my mind’s eye; piecing together the missing elements through memory. But, I think that as much as nostalgia will fill my heart as I stand in the center of RKO Plaza some time in 2007, so will a fair amount of anger and bitterness and thoughts of what might have been.

To paraphrase JFK, some folks see the Keith’s as it is and ask “why?” I see the Keith’s as it isn’t and ask “why not?”

JimRankin on December 15, 2005 at 8:20 am

Ed’s heartfelt comments are well taken. Let us hope that the powers that be will at least have the wisdom to have large photo blow-ups of the theatre as it was at prime, mounted inside the glass wall. That plus a plaque stating some of its history and just why it was so partially preserved, plus sources of further information, would be most appropriate. Such careful and gracious accomodation of viewers of the future would do much to dispell the impression that it was merely a ‘smash it down for the sake of our greed’ mentality that some may otherwise see it as. If they lack photos, know that www.historictheatres.org has numerous b&w plus COLOR images. If rendered in the Lithographic (etched) Aluminum sheet process, they will look classy and be mostly immune to aging. Let us hope.

roadwarrior23249 on December 15, 2005 at 8:18 pm

RKO Plaza…….geez, can they even really still call it that? I know the rko company still exists in some current form, but at the last moment I cant help but think they will change the name also for legality’s sake. A lobby and a nonsense name to calm us while they rip it all down.

NativeForestHiller on December 16, 2005 at 1:01 am

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!”

I’ve attended several local preservation gatherings & other events, where Borough Pres. Helen Marshall strolls in during the middle, poses for the media (or for the record), and then leaves as quickly as she came, like a pop-up. This proves that it’s only about politics. She would save a lot of time if she “posed behind the glass curtain,” as you stated in a corresponding posting.

My ultimate point is that besides a few board members and politicians, leave land use and landmarking issues up to the people. They are the majority. They numerously trace their footsteps. And for the newcomers, a lesson in history wouldn’t hurt. WE THE PEOPLE!!! Flushing certainly needs more congestion and over-development to eradicate our priceless history! SHAME ON YOU!!!!!!!!!

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