After Being Shuttered For Nearly Four Decades, The Stunning Kings Theatre Reopens Following $95 Million Renovation

After Being Shuttered For Nearly Four Decades, The Stunning Kings Theatre Reopens Following $95 Million Renovation
Kings Theatre reopening sign outside

After sitting dormant for nearly four decades, its once opulent rooms overtaken by water and mold and ravaged by vandals, the Kings Theatre officially reopened its doors today to a world much like the one Brooklynites of the Jazz Age knew and adored: soaring ceilings, lush drapes, 1,800 pound Art Deco chandeliers, thousands of feet of replicated carpet – a lavish place that, when it debuted in 1929, was meant to evoke the Palace of Versailles and the Paris Opera House.

Flash forward to today, the elected officials and business leaders who attended Friday’s ribbon cutting ceremony for the 3,000-seat Kings Theatre (1027 Flatbush Avenue) said New York’s fourth largest theater (following Radio City Music Hall, the Theater at Madison Square Garden and the Metropolitan Opera House) will be less Paris and more Brooklyn – a place where everyone from Motown legend Diana Ross to reggae performers and Disney characters will find an audience.

Additionally, nearly everyone who spoke during the ribbon cutting ceremony, which marks the culmination of a nearly $95 million renovation project (the groundbreaking for which happened exactly two years ago today), stressed they believe the massive theater will not only be a centerpiece in the borough’s cultural landscape but will spur economic development in the area, creating jobs at both the performing venue itself as well as at new – and old – businesses throughout the neighborhood.

Kings Theatre reopening ribbon cutting electeds

“Today marks a milestone for the Flatbush community,” New York City Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development Alicia Glen said. “The city’s investment in the revival of the Kings Theatre is about much more than the restoration of the beloved, historic building – it is about supporting the creation of local jobs, new traffic for area small businesses, and development new state-of-the-art space for the community to gather. Kings Theatre will become a destination for New Yorkers and visitors alike – and provide real community benefits in the process.”

Borough President Eric Adams echoed this, saying the site will draw countless people to Brooklyn and Flatbush Avenue (where Adams suggested they try one of our neighborhood’s amazing roti).

“We have just acquired the LeBron James of theaters right here,” Adams said.

Kings Theatre reopening auditorium
Kings Theatre reopening downstairs
Kings Theatre reopening grand lobby from second floor
Kings Theatre reopening use this

One of the five “Wonder Theatres” built by Loew’s during the opulent 1920s, the Kings Theatre opened on September 7, 1929 with a performance by Dolores del Rio in “Evangeline” and, over the years, went on to be the stage for countless graduations (including those of Carole King and U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer) – as well as a place where Barbara Streisand would regularly go to catch a Saturday matinée and the spot where Borough President Marty Markowitz had his first date. (“When I took my first date here, I was close to 16, and we were in the balcony,” Markowitz said at the groundbreaking. “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.”)

The theatre shuttered in 1977 because of low attendance, ending its reign with a Bruce Lee flick. After it closed its doors, the stunning space fell into disrepair, sustaining decades of water damage and vandalism. After it closed, the city acquired it in 1983 because of the owner’s failure to pay taxes, and a number of people tried, but failed, to resuscitate it (including Magic Johnson). Along with attempts to revitalize it over the decades, there were those who wanted to demolish it and put in its place a shopping center, or another movie theater.

Kings Theatre reopening downstairs large view of seating

Ultimately, former Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz spearheaded efforts to save the theatre from the wrecking ball, and, in 2008,  the city Economic Development Corporation launched a search for an entity to undertake a major renovation of the site, with the goal of reviving it as an economic engine and cultural hub. The Kings Theatre Redevelopment Company – a consortium of ACE Theatrical Group, the Goldman Sachs Urban Investment Group, and the National Development Council – was tapped to lead this effort in 2013.

Kings Theatre reopening statue

When the project’s leaders, Martinez+Johnson Architecture, EverGreene Architectural Arts, and Gilbane Building Company first saw the theatre after years of standing dormant, it was a mess. (You can see a video of how the groups conducted a “historic finishes investigation” at the Kings Theatre here.)

“The vandals took everything they could – marble fireplaces, statues, anything they could get their hands on,” EverGreene President Jeff Greene said during a tour of the theater today.

Kings Theatre reopening Neil Heyman

For the first five months of the project, workers had to solely focus on making sure the theatre was structurally sound, putting on a new roof (a major portion of which had been blown off during Hurricane Sandy), cleaning up the “environmental conditions,” removing layer upon layer of mold, and more, said Neil Heyman, vice president of the Gilbane Building Company.

While they had to trudge through plenty of mold, Greene and Heyman said there were also quite a few lovely surprises along the way – including the discovery of an old love letter wedged in the walls of the theatre.

“Unfortunately, the author and recipient were no longer with us, but we found the niece and gave her the letter,” Heyman said.

Kings Theatre reopening workers in restroom waiting area

Now, after two years of trekking through standing water, replacing ceilings, tracking down ancient photos and interviewing as many people as they possibly could who could remember what the theater was once like, and so much more, workers are putting the final touches on the space that will hold a free preview performance for the public next Tuesday and officially kicks off its entertainment lineup with a sold-out concert by Diana Ross on February 3.

Kings Theatre reopening upstairs looking through to chandelier
Kings Theatre reopening auditorium from second floor

As for where it goes from here? Many at Friday’s event predicted big economic change, with Dan Marsh, of the National Development Council, pointing to the Gap Factory store that recently opened across the street from the performance venue, as well as the incoming hotel and gym that are slated to open in the not-too-distant future.

Kings Theatre reopening status
Kings Theatre reopening face carving

And while many said they welcomed the economic change, including Assemblywoman Rodneyse Bichotte saying the theater’s restoration would be “part of the the Flatbush renaissance,” not everyone is pleased with the new commercial landscape. On Friday, a handful of Local 79 union workers were protesting the Gap’s employment practices, saying they used non-union work to build the Gap and accusing them of not paying livable wages. (We’ve reached out to the Gap for comment and will update this if they get back to us.)

“The issue is not just that it’s non-union,” said Anthony Williamson, of Local 79. “If you’re going to up the neighborhood, you should have good-paying jobs. It’s about quality of life and a standard of living – these are low-paying jobs with no benefits, no health care.”

Williamson did stress that he believes the Kings Theatre “is a great thing” for the area.

“It’ll lift up the neighborhood – it’ll be a great thing for business,” he said. “They used all union workers to build the Kings Theatre.”

“But the people who live in the neighborhood, they need good jobs – that’s the only way things are going to change.”

While Gap has landed the ire of some workers, Kings Theatre’s employment practices have not. People like Councilman Mathieu Eugene have lauded the site for hiring numerous people from the immediate area.

“Right now, the theater is creating over 100 full time jobs for people living right here,” Eugene said.

What do you think the theater will mean for the neighborhood? Are you planning on attending the upcoming shows?

Kings Theatre reopening ceiling
Kings Theatre reopening auditorium side
Kings Theatre reopening closeup of seat
Kings Theatre reopening seating
Kings Theatre reopening David Anderson of ACE Theatrical
Kings Theatre reopening grand lobby
Kings Theatre reopening grand hall looking up
Kings Theatre reopening outside

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