Monday, April 14, 2008

Lost in History vol. 58: A King of a Theater, Awaiting a New Court

Growing up in Flatbush, Brooklyn in the 1980s and ‘90s had left me with some serious envy of previous eras. I missed (by more than a generation, but who’s counting?) Brooklyn’s heyday of the 1940s through the 60s, when the borough had it all: blue-collar employment via the Navy Yard and North Brooklyn’s ubiquitous factories; multi-cultural down-to-earth heroes, by way of the Brooklyn Dodgers; a world-renowned epicenter for the birth of live rock and roll with Murray the K’s concert extravaganzas at the Fox Theater on Flatbush and Dekalb avenues. Now most of these venues are long gone: – the The Brooklyn Navy Yard was closed as an active shipbuilding yard in 1966,; the Dodgers left for LA in 1957 and the Fox theater is now part of Long Island University’s Brooklyn campus. But every so often I would bike past a shuttered part of history and wonder about its future.This would happen most frequently when zooming past the abandoned, derelict Loew’s Kings Theater. Built as one of the NYC region’s’ five “Wonder Theaters” in 1929, the Loew’s Kings was considered to be the most extravagant and opulent of the five (the other four are the Valencia in Queens, the Jersey Theater in Jersey City, the Paradise in the Bronx and the 175th Street Theater, uptown) and was designed by the distinguished architecture firm of Rapp and Rapp. Built in an over-the-top French Renaissance style on the bustling commercial stretch of Flatbush Avenue between Tilden Avenue and Beverly Road, the Kings was said to be inspired by the Palace of Versailles and the Paris Opera House. At capacity, the Kings held close to 3200 movie-goers, the majority of whom enjoyed orchestra seating, which was unusual for an urban movie theater. Sylvester Stallone, Henry Winkler and Barbara Streisand were all high school ushers (but not at the same time). The lobby paneling was carved out of Mahogany Oak and the entire place had extravagant art deco etchings, details and accouterments, which helped ticket-holders escape the dreary Depression.Through declining attendance, the Kings lasted lasted into the ‘50s, at which point its attendance declined until the ‘77, when it was locked, shuttered, sold to the city and left for dead. Which is how I always zoomed past it, wandering the exterior, searching for a way in, legally or not. But with the renaissance of the Paradise in the Bronx, now a live music and events venue, as well as the resurrection of the 175th Street as a live concert hall slash Evangelical House of Worship, we might very well see the return of the Loew’s Kings to something like its former glory. The NYC Economic Development Corporation held an open house and invitation for RFPs to turn this majestic, ghostly wonder palace into a living performance space once again. Although I don’t have the $70 million that the city is asking as a leasing price, let alone the cost it would take to rehabilitate the thing, I showed anyway, to take pictures of the decaying monstrosity. The massive velvet curtain was sagging, the plastered walls were crumbling and the seats were rotting away, but the ornate-ness and grandiosity were very much intact. Whatever questionable future the Kings has, and however long it takes, there is a very good chance that it will be royalty once again.
(originally published on on 4/8/8)

1 comment:

Nico said...

wish i was there.... drop a line next time you go exploring, its a slim chance id be in NYC... but you never know.... (greetings from vegan paris!)