Sitting vacant on Flatbush Avenue since 1977, Loew’s Kings Theatre probably had more people in it today than it has in over 35 years. The city held a groundbreaking ceremony this afternoon, where Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, representatives from ACE Theatrical Group and the New York City Economic Development Corporation, and more were on hand to explain to just about every news organization in NYC what the plans for the theater are.
“This will be the Radio City Music Hall of Brooklyn, and it will be just as spectacular,” said the Mayor.
It might be hard to look at the theater now (above) and the renderings of what’s to come (below) and think it will all work out in the end, but ACE, along with Martinez and Johnson Architecture, has a good track record of restoring historical theaters. They’ve been doing preliminary work on the now-simply-named Kings Theater since 2010, and the real construction and renovation will begin this month. They’ve previously told us that virtually every bit of the theater needs restoration, and now that we’ve seen inside, we don’t doubt that at all.
New York City has executed a 55-year lease with the Kings Theatre Redevelopment Corporation – a consortium of ACE Theatrical, Goldman Sachs and the National Development Council – to begin the full redevelopment and rehabilitation of the theater. It is a $94M project, with more than $50M provided by the city.
The theater will grow from its current 68,000 square feet to 98,000 square feet, expanding into the back. Though we’d previously heard the possibility of an opening date of late 2014, they said 2015 repeatedly today.
The Mayor estimated that the project will create 500 construction jobs and 50 permanent jobs, and they expect the theater’s performances to create temporary jobs. A neighbor asked about whether there would be any effort to make some of those jobs available to locals, and the Mayor referenced Barclays, hoping to do the same here by providing opportunities to people in the area first.
ACE hopes to host between 200-250 performances each year, including concerts, dance, comedy, and more – no talk of movies, though.
“It’s going to be a movie palace on steroids,” said David Anderson, president of ACE Theatricals. “It’s going to be a theater for the entire community. The community has put its money and support into it, and the theater is going to give back to the community everything that it’s put in.”
Markowitz credits Councilman Mathieu Eugene, State Senator Kevin Parker, Assemblymember Rhoda Jacobs, Community Board 14, and Seth Pinsky and his team at the NYCEDC for helping get this theater renovated.
“This is a dream come true for so many of us,” he said. “When I approached Seth about this, he thought I was meshuga. Even though initially he thought I was crazy, to his credit, he came down here and he got it. It would not have happened if not for the Seth and his team at the EDC.”
One member of the audience today was a former usher at the theater, and everyone who had memories of the theater was happy to share them. Brooklyn Borough Historian Ron Schweiger shared his wife’s memory of playing in a band on the orchestra pit that rose from below the floor: “She had trouble concentrating on the music as the floor rose.” Even Markowitz had an anecdote to recall.
“When I took my first date here, I was close to 16, and we were in the balcony,” he said. “In those days, when you try to put your arm around the girl, that was a big thing. I tell ya I didn’t do too good, because she threw it right off, and that was my first and only date with her. But my love affair with the Loew’s Kings has lasted my lifetime.”
One thing we can’t yet anticipate is the impact the theater will have on the surrounding blocks of Flatbush Avenue. The closest thing to compare it to is Barclays, which is of course a much larger venue and overal project. Its impact on nearby businesses has been swift and fierce – many shops along the avenue have closed, though some new ones are coming in, and at least one building was purchased for a record price. We might not see anything so drastic down here, but we should absolutely expect some changes to the street.
“The Kings will be a catalyst to economic development on Flatbush Avenue, and I expect restaurants and retailers to want to be here,” Markowitz said. “It will be a great asset to Flatbush and all of Brooklyn.”
First they’ll have to evict the cats – I saw one dart across stage left as we checked out the crumbling theater. Didn’t manage to snap a pic of that squatter, but with so many more amazing details, it was hard not to document them all. For those who haven’t been in there in years, and for those who’ve never been, please enjoy the rest of these ‘before’ photos. We’re looking forward to seeing the ‘after’!
In the lobby, a sign reads: “Welcome to the Kings Theatre, Brooklyn’s Finest Showplace, Presenting First Run Pictures Week After Week For Your Movie Going Pleasure.”
As soon as you walk into the main lobby, you can see quite a bit of damage. But considering how long it’s been empty, it’s amazing how much there is still intact.
You’ll see a lot of the theater in the media coverage of today’s groundbreaking – check just about any paper, TV network, or radio station. As of this post, CBS is the only one to have coverage up already, but expect to see more tonight. If you see anything worth sharing, please note it in the comments.
The ceiling, though still lovely, has sustained a lot of water damage from leaks over the years, which is still apparently a bit of an issue.
Some damage around the inner lobby.
And some damage inside the theater, including the crumbling balcony. “I know, it looks like it’s melting,” said ACE’s David Anderson.
Some parts are still in fairly decent shape. How so many of the fabric seats survived so well is amazing – you could almost imagine sitting down in one to watch one of those first run pictures right now.
There are also a surprising amount of small original items still around. They laid out some pieces of moulding, fabrics, and a few reels that they uncovered, but there are also things like the popcorn machine, the ice cream cabinet, a cigarette machine, and ticket counters in the ticket booth.
A neighbor recalled a possible auction of items from the theater, so we’re guessing there are some other pieces of the theater around someplace – anyone have anything from the theater at home that you’d like to share? Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we will!
Renderings via the Mayor’s office