Friday, January 28, 2011
Who's really to blame for the RKO Keith's?
Here we go again...
To the author of this article:
You do a great disservice in “reporting” on the fight to save the RKO Keith’s Theater by not doing your homework as to A) to the true unfolding of events as to how they occurred and B) disseminating inaccurate information that is then taken at face value because of your position as a “journalist” for the Baruch College Journalism program.
While the spirit of the Facebook group shows great concern and empathy for our ruined treasure, the often-times wrong info that is carried by that site (as well as some of the people that you interviewed) completely confuses the point as to WHY the building is still standing.
To simplify matters:
1) The entire interior of the building was granted New York City Landmark status in 1984. This includes ALL INTERIOR SPACES, including the auditorium, grand foyer, ticket lobby, lounges, mezzanines, promenade and the like. Also, the full interior AND exterior were placed (and remain today) on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.
2) Former Borough President Donald Manes abridged the designation at the old Board of Estimate (which could overturn landmark designation, as the City Council can today) shortly thereafter when his successor, Claire Shulman, was his deputy-Borough President and representing him at the meeting. Shulman lobbied other members of the Board of Estimate at the behest of her boss Manes to scrap the full designation in favor of only the ticket lobby and grand foyer being protected. Had the landmark designation not been voted on by midnight of a certain date by the Board of Estimate, the entire interior designation would have remained permanent.
3) After two years, the Committee to Save the RKO Keith’s Theater, Inc. requested the restoration of the full interior landmark designation. Over 3,500 petition signatures were sent to Mayor Koch, then-Borough President Shulman and the Landmarks Preservation Commission. It was subsequently discovered that Tommy Huang had driven a bulldozer up the east staircase of the grand foyer, damaging the landmarked portion of the building.
4) The destruction Huang perpetrated on the rest of building had no rhyme or reason in terms of an actual demolition plan. He damaged as much of the interior ornament and building fabric as possible as to make the re-designation of the full interior of the building as a landmark impossible. It seemed clearly that his intent was to destroy the entire interior of the building, thumbing his nose at the authorities, the community and the government in order to show that he was the boss.
5) When confronted by supporters of the restoration of the theater and creative adaptive re-use into a performing arts / conference center in 1986, BP Claire Shulman refused to support the redesignation. When she was questioned at a later date over the possibility of pursuing punitive damages against Huang, her response was “Hasn’t he suffered enough? He hasn’t been able to build on the site…” for a number of years.
6) Tommy Huang was NOT going to build a movie complex at the RKO Keith’s. In fact, in the original deed when it was conveyed to him by RKO, he was prohibited from showing movies in the English language at the site for 25 years. This was to stop any competition between RKO, which still operated other theaters in the metropolitan area, and any other movie operator who might buy the building. The prohibition is expiring this year.
7) Contrary to your article, Tommy Huang or his shell corporations owned the building until its sale to Boymelgreen. He NEVER filed for bankruptcy and used the shell corporations to remove personal liability for himself. In fact, within a year or so of purchasing the building, he had flipped the property from the Farrington & Northern Development Corp. to Henry & John Associates (Henry and John are his sons). At one point, I believe he even made his own mother the legal owner of the building, which would make her responsible for the debts and violations that he incurred over the years.
These facts – and many, many more not discussed here – tell the true story of what has happened to the “Penn Station” of Queens.
This building, more than any others that were destroyed or compromised, was what galvanized preservationists throughout the borough to make sure something like this would never happen again.
Most importantly, he could not have accomplished the destruction of this theater – and get away with it – without the help of other accomplices, including former Borough Presidents Donald Manes and Claire Shulman. Most importantly, Shulman could have intervened with the building or reversed the landmark designation to include the entire interior (at a time when the Borough President’s power was substantially more than today, as their power was limited after the 1989 Charter Revision). She made a conscious choice not to intervene, but it’s more than that; she truly was implicitly involved in the destruction of the building. Her refusal to listen to her constituents and other elected officials in the race to save the RKO Keith’s – and her actions during the past three decades at other preservation flash points throughout the borough – clearly revealed her agenda for Queens.