Friday, November 30, 2018

Seeking to save NYC theaters

From Crains:

In a city with 8.6 million residents packed within 303 square miles, aging movie theaters have become a preservation battleground that often pits developers looking to make a profit against elected officials eager to maintain quality of life and residents seeking communal and cultural gathering spaces. After notable failures in recent years such as the American Theater in the Bronx, which is now a Marshalls, and successes such as the Kings Theatre in Flatbush, now a live-performance venue, communities are hoping to find a road map for success with long-empty theaters such as the Metro, RKO Keith in Flushing and the Hamilton in Harlem, among several others.

"There's a desperate need for any space geared toward the community—something for young people and seniors," said Assemblyman Ron Kim, who is eyeing the RKO Keith in his Queens district. Demolition and plans for a large glass condo tower have apparently stalled, and Kim hopes a coming downturn in the Flushing condo market could give the site new life. "There's no place to meet and interact."

Once upon a time New York City did not have multiplexes—it had movie palaces, dazzling buildings that screened movies, hosted vaudeville and became social anchors for their communities. The first was the Regent, built in 1913 by Thomas Lamb at 116th Street and what is now Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard. (Today it is home to the First Corinthian Baptist Church.) Nearly every neighborhood soon had its own palace with an average of 1,800 seats and lavish decorations.

But the rise of television in the 1950s, New York's fiscal crisis in the 1970s and the crime surge in the crack era all played a role in the decline of these movie theaters. Then the subsequent real estate boom made the land beneath them increasingly valuable. Large-screen home entertainment centers and movie streaming on smartphones didn't help. Coupled with the high cost of modernizing theaters for digital projection, the economics of these old picture houses simply didn't work anymore.

More than two dozen movie palaces built between 1910 and 1932 have been closed or razed. Of those still standing, some were transformed into retail stores or gyms; others were reimagined. Frequently they became churches. Even the Ziegfeld Theatre, one of the last single-screen theaters in the country when it opened in 1969, closed in 2016 after converting to digital projection. It is now Ziegfeld Ballroom, an event space.

The movie houses that remain pose challenges to communities and developers alike. While nostalgic locals campaign to turn the projection lights back on, that's typically not a realistic solution.


Anonymous said...

In other words, he wants to please the old koreans and Chinese who can no longer sit in McDonald's for hours at a time to socialize.

Anonymous said...


Brandon Milenario said...

"There's no place to meet and interact."

Like, who needs a place to meet and interact when you got, like, Facebook and stuff.

Anonymous said...

Having been inside RKO Flushing a few years ago, I gotta say that it's barely salvageable. The grand staircase might be worth it, but the stage and seating areas are toast.

ron s said...


Yes, Trump will do it cheaply. He won't pay any of the contractors,then threaten to sue them. Then he will deny everything and say it is fake news to Hannity.

Anonymous said...

They should salvage what they can and build a new semi-structure within it like the Hearst building in midtown.

Anonymous said...

RKO could have been saved 20 years ago if then powerful Congressman Ackerman had brought federal funds to revitalized it. He wasn't interested, and neither is his successor Grace Meng now.

Anonymous said...

Again, he did not get to the point, he did not give a straight answer on the future of this theater, is it going to be condos or preserved, is it going to turn into another Mcdonalds I dont get it!

Funny enough, I am beginning to want the Mcdonalds on Parsons back as it is pretty much abandoned and nothing will replace it.

Anonymous said...

Yet another example of how Queens is left behind by its leadership who, after all, are drawn from the ranks of the same proles who elected them. You go anywhere in Brooklyn or the Bronx (Manhattan could be on the moon as far as Queens is concerned) and even the ghetto areas of the 80s have figured it out and are moving ahead of Queens.

Look at the Steinway Mansion - what a loss to the youth - yet when you talk to the locals they tout what a great guy Costa is ..... because he is a softball coach and! and! and! he is spending millions on a new track to replace the millions they spent on .... a new track a few short year ago.

Hopeless. No wonder they are afraid of Amazon.

Anonymous said...

Some memories don't fade.
I can remember seeing Star Wars there in 1977. The RKO Keith was really something.
The Lowes Astor Plaza in Times Square was my choice for Return of the Jedi in 1983 old Times Square was still seedy and an adventure back then. The movie theater was huge and still had the bones of its glorious past.
Most recently, the Ziegfeld Theatre in Manhattan was the place to go to see BIG movies. Sometimes you have to see a film as it was meant to be seen (70 mm with a sound system to match), films like Blade Runner or The Shining or Alien.
Sadly, that theater closed in 2016.

Communities do need spaces, that's for sure. It's sad that we're losing those cultural touchstones that were once an experience for all Americans. These days, everyone's off on their own netflex and youtube corner.

These movie palaces should be saved and invested in for the sake of our communities. Not everything has to be developed in glass towers and overprice condos.
Imagine if the Romans and Greeks destroyed all their amphitheatres?

Use some of that money being spent to maintain a "sanctuary city" and invest in the cultural gems that made it a city worth living in.

Harry Haller

JQ LLC said...

Preservation by neglect.

Anonymous said...

If you meet and interact outside someone's Condo that's called loitering. More gaudy glass buildings post haste! Flushing wouldn't know class if it slapped it in the face.

Anonymous said...

@Harry Haller
"The best prophet of the future is the past" Lord Byron

Anonymous said...

We saw the classic "The Warriors" at the Ziegfeld (or was it called Reade theater back then) Every 3rd or so person was smoking pot---jeez what a great all time movie !!
The city was so much fun in the 70s, you could do near whatever you want.
Rudy G and Bloomberg Worse ruined everything for everybody

JQ LLC said...

Re: Warriors

I saw the Empire Strikes Back there and the place was clouded in smoke and reeked of ganja.

I was 12 and it was my first exposure of the kind weed. And the first time I fell in love.