Friday, February 5, 2010

A tale of two boroughs' movie houses

From the NY Times:

The building bears little resemblance to the extravagantly sumptuous “wonder theater” that wowed audiences in 1929.

The rusting, dirt-caked marquee that hangs outside the Loew’s Kings Theater over a bustling commercial stretch of Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn last promoted a film in 1977. Years of neglect have left the interior rotted by time, stripped by thieves and desecrated by vandals and pigeons.

New York City, which seized the building decades ago in lieu of back taxes, has long teased the neighborhood with proposals to restore the lost luster of a local movie palace. But this time, the city says, it is for real.

A developer has signed an agreement, made a down payment on a $70 million renovation and plans to turn the building back into a functioning entertainment site, this time presenting live performances, city officials said Tuesday.

“We’re on our way to making that dream come true,” said Marty Markowitz, the Brooklyn borough president, who is to formally announce the restoration in his State of the Borough address Wednesday.

After a four-year process — and many false starts — the city has selected a company based in Houston, ACE Theatrical Group, to renovate and operate the theater. It would be, once again, the biggest indoor theater in Brooklyn, presenting 250 concerts, theatrical performances and community events annually, officials said.

“We feel like we have a deal we can deliver on,” said Seth W. Pinsky, president of the New York City Economic Development Corporation. “We are confident this project is going to move forward.”

ACE, which has worked on similar restoration projects throughout the country, including the Boston Opera House, will soon begin a review and design process that is expected to take a couple of years. Preliminary plans call for the space to open as soon as 2014, Mr. Pinsky said. The city has committed $50 million to the project, with another $15 million coming in the form of tax credits and $5 million from the developer, which would also be responsible for any extra spending, said Mr. Pinsky.

On a stretch of Flatbush Avenue near Beverly Road — which the theater shares with discount furniture and clothing stores, a vacant lot and a boarded-up storefront — news of the renovation was greeted with enthusiasm by residents who had never been inside it.

So the city condemned the Kings and is pouring millions upon millions into its restoration, but the RKO Keiths of Flushing is allowed to remain a festering eyesore in the heart of what we are told is the most vibrant, diverse neighborhood in the city.

Makes sense. Here's another take on it from a reader:

" they spend $70 million to restore a trashed movie palace in Brooklyn but we have to put up with Tommy Huang and elected officials cutting deals for an 18-story building just to save a fucking lobby at the RKO Keith's? It's despicable."

Yes, it certainly is. But that's what happens when the electorate repeatedly empowers a bunch of Manes-era tweeders and a developer mayor. The current state of the RKO Keith's is actually the perfect reflection of the borough. So what are you going to do about it?

Read Kevin Walsh's timely Huffington Post article about the effort to save the RKO Keith's.


Outside District Lines said...

I don't understant this. Why is this never discussed by Pratt? Muni Art Society? Landmarks Conservency?

They all have me on their mailing lists. They all are looking at donations. But NO WHERE do I see this discussed?

I just got a mailing from Hist Dist Council for their annual conference - tickets at $25 - $45 dollars and NO WHERE is this discussed?


Anonymous said...

Because they don't give a shit.

You don't live in Manhattan.

Anonymous said...

Not all preservationists are Manhattan elites. The president of HDC, Paul Graziano, lives in Queens.

So if anything, we need to lean on him to remember his borough.

Anonymous said...

Not all preservationists are Manhattan elites. The president of HDC, Paul Graziano, lives in Queens.

So if anything, we need to lean on him to remember his borough.

okkkkkaaayyy - with that background, what is needed?

A Marine expeditionary force?

Anonymous said...

Because they don't give a shit.

You don't live in Manhattan.


Couldn't be further from the TRUTH.

Anything between the Van Wyck and Francis Lewis Boulevard is just about the most forgotten strip of New York City to ever exist.

Lino said...

"New York City, which seized the building decades ago in lieu of back taxes..."


"...but we have to put up with Tommy Huang..."

Not wanting to introduce common logic here but, one location is -owned by the City- the other is still subject to those "sacred" private property rules.

This isn't a Queens vs Brooklyn issue. The simple fact is that by virtue of paying r.e. taxes this crook has been able to retain matter how detrimental.

Queens Crapper said...

Oh, is that all? Well the people in Willets Point and Atlantic Yards have been paying property taxes for decades, yet they have been deemed "blighted" and will be condemned to make way for something better. Kind of like that theater in Brooklyn. So why not do the same for the theater in Queens? It's already been foreclosed on.

Joe said...

The RKO Keiths is no doubt a tragity and disgrace of curruption but the problem still remains.

Who wants to go to flushing to blow $20 on a movie to find your car window busted out if you find your car at all.
There must be 1000's criminals living in under the Northern Blvd viaduct, LIRR ROW and Corona Park under the Van Wyck.
Another million more in that cesspool 1/2 mile to the west.
I bike ride in FMCP during summer, these desperate illegals and bums are in the brush outside perimeter road everywhere.
They size you up like leopards in African tundra.

I asked a cop he said "our hand are kind of tied" "unless the commit a crime we cant touch them --desk duty if we do"

Queens Crapper said...

And Flatbush Avenue is any better?

No one says it has to remain a moviehouse.

-Joe said...

I kinds think so Crappy.
Main and Northern looks like downtown Chernobyl or a set from "Escape From New York" after dark

That section of Flatbush has lots of tree's, cool old houses. It doesn't look like another country.
The Brooklyn Palladium (academy of music) is around the corner. The big clocktower is across the street
I played that comic blues thing at the academy there last summer with Jimmy Fallon, Horatio Sanz. I was bored and was slumming around all day and after the show till 2AM.
Lots of hipsters some bars. Its not what it was in the 70's.
I guess that's why the city is after the property

Lino said...

"So why not do the same for the theater in Queens? It's already been foreclosed on."

Well, then someone should approach that group and ask them to look into the Keith.

IF that space is now potentially available, why not contact Mayor's Office of Film, Theater and Broadcasting --I know you'll probably laugh at that suggestion.

Is that area viable for this sort of investment. that is the question. Obviously some think that the Brooklyn venue is worthy.

For what little its worth, I agree that E.D. should not be used for the benefit of private developers.

Queens Crapper said...

Well Lino, that space has been available for close to 30 years now. And we have been told ad nauseum for just about that time that Flushing is the city's most exciting neighborhood, where it's at, yada yada. So I would have thought they would have jumped at this opportunity years ago.

Anonymous said...

it's a shame about both
for an example of a sister "wonder theater" that was saved see

Anonymous said...

"Joe" really need to use a dictionary.

Your spelling of "trajity" is indeed a tragedy.

We won't even discuss your spelling of corruption.

Learn to use proper English...Joseph.

After all...your posts will be read by thousands.

Aren't you at all embarrassed?

And what in the hell have you been smoking Joe?

You're not connecting your thoughts very well.

Anonymous said...

Joe must be on crack!

The Brooklyn Academy is located miles away from the Loews Kings!

Look at a map doofus!

Jerry Rotondi , Committee to Save the Keith's Inc. said...

The whole sordid tale of the RKO Keith's Flushing Theatre is far too long to post here even in installments.

A book on the subject will eventually be published.

But here's the short of it until then:

At the behest of the late corrupt Donald Manes (1984) the landmarking of the interior of the Keith's was abridged to shelter ONLY the ticket lobby and grand foyer.

Shortly afterward Tommy Huang bought the theater.

A gnawing question remains, were they in cahoots?

In 1986 the Committee To Save The RKO Keith's Theatre of Flushing Inc. resubmitted a request for designating the WHOLE INTERIOR once again.

This was accompanied by a petition signed by over 3,500 people.

Copies were sent certified return receipt mail to the LPC, the Borough President Shulman and the mayor Koch.

As per information we were given by the LPC...Borough President Claire Shulman did not show any support for the movement to re-landmark the Keith's in its entirety.

In fact she did everything she could to stonewall any effort with regard to this matter...citing that Tommy Huang pays his taxes, etc. so what can we do?

Our committee even sought eminent domain proceedings...for NYC to acquire the Keith's from convicted criminal Huang so that it could become the focal point for the downtown area's renewal.

A combination performing arts/convention center could have been just one possibility for reusing this architectural masterpiece.

So here we are now.

NYC is about to use eminent domain to seize Willets Point not for the public good but for private profit.

And the same Claire Shulman who wouldn't think of seizing the Keith's now supports this Willets Point land grab!

Anonymous said... forgot to mention that plans were submitted by Huang for subdividing the Keith's site before he actually bought the theater.

I saw them at the DOB...a newly created lot # 31 plus another lot#48 out of the old original Block 4958 Lot#31.

And Donald Manes was still alive at that time.

It looks like they most certainly were in cahoots!

Flushing Phantom said...

The contrast between Brooklyn and Queens regarding these two fine theaters is simply explained.

Marty Markowitz is a booster for the Kings...whilst Manes and Shulman were the Keith's gravediggers!

Tommy Huang provided the shovels.

Anonymous said...

A lot of Flatbush is populated by what some have called "the wrong element".

The main drag near the Loews Kings is shabby...with some store fronts closed up.

Refurbishing the Loews Kings would encourage hipsters, yuppies, whatever, to replace or displace the unwanted "dark folks" and spend their money in an upgraded shopping district around that same Kings Theater.

That's the city's (and Marty's) game plan.

So committing 70 million dollars is a mere pittance to accomplish that.

In Flushing the Asians were brought in to displace Blacks and Latinos who many feared might overpopulate the area and ruin real estate values.

So the credo was...
"Thank God for the Asians...we didn't want Flushing to become another south Jamaica" (or south Bronx)...depending on which pol was making the statement.

And we got all that Asian money to inflate property values so Tommy Huang could get away with murder if he wanted!

The Keith's was the sacrificial lamb (as in Thomas Lamb...its architect).

We didn't need it to spur the so called renewal of a "blighted" area.

Jerry Rotondi, Committe to Save the Keith's Inc. said...


A "little bird" who was once part of a local political contingent that attended a meeting with then Borough President Shulman just reminded me of something I forgot to mention.

Their purpose was to request further sanctions against Tommy Huang regarding some additional illegal work being done at the landmark Keith's Flushing theater.

Shulman responded by telling that group the following:

"Hasn't he (Tommy) suffered enough. He hasn't been able to build on the site".

Obviously, Claire never cared!