Now developer Xinyuan Real Estate will join the ranks of planning sorcery with its proposal for the former RKO Keith’s Theater in Flushing, a long-shuttered building by Thomas Lamb with partial interior landmark status. Xinyuan came in front of the Landmarks Preservation Commission on Tuesday morning to present its proposal to rehabilitate and preserve the 1928-built theater’s landmarked grand foyer and ticket lobby within a new glassy 16-floor building with 269 apartments. To the surprise of some, the proposal was approved on the first go-around.
Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, the firm founded by Pritzker Prize winner I.M. Pei, is the project architect while Ayon Studios have been tapped as the preservation architect.
Architectural drawings on file with Landmarks indicate that Xinyuan plans to use the existing ticket lobby and grand foyer as the entry for the residential building. An additional residential lobby, mail room, and elevator bank will be accessed past the landmarked interiors.
Floorplans included in the presentation also show that the building will have a sophisticated robot parking system, as condo developments these days do. Under the plan, the original theater that could once seat up to 3,000 and was not granted landmark status will be razed.
The interiors, largely neglected for the past 30 years, are worse for wear. Images from inside the building taken at different times after its 1984 landmarking show just how much the structure has fallen towards disrepair, with a partial collapse of the grand foyer’s ceiling and graffiti littered throughout.
As part of the site’s redevelopment, some of the existing plasterwork that depicts an asymmetrical Churrigueresque Spanish townscape will be removed and replaced, with other portions being salvaged and restored off site. Just about everything will require work, be it reconstruction or new paint.
The Municipal Arts Society has weighed in on the restoration, saying it believes “the new construction could be more sympathetic to the historic theater,” but endorsing the rehab nonetheless.
The Historic Districts Council in its written statement expresses concerns about the accessibility of the interior landmark, noting that “public accessibility to an interior landmark is a key characteristic of its designation” and that “people are not permitted into the lobby of a residential building except at the invitation of a resident.”
This proved to be the main point of contention among the LPC’s commissioners as well, at Tuesday’s meeting. While the ticket lobby will be accessible to the public as part of the retail space in the new development, the fate of the grand foyer beyond that has yet to be decided.