Planned restoration of Loew's Kings Theatre in Brooklyn
The building bears little resemblance to the extravagantly sumptuous “wonder theater” that wowed audiences in 1929.
The rusting, dirt-caked marquee that hangs outside the Loew’s Kings Theater over a bustling commercial stretch of Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn last promoted a film in 1977. Years of neglect have left the interior rotted by time, stripped by thieves and desecrated by vandals and pigeons.
New York City, which seized the building decades ago in lieu of back taxes, has long teased the neighborhood with proposals to restore the lost luster of a local landmark. But this time, the city says, it is for real.
A developer has signed an agreement, made a down payment on a $70 million renovation and plans to turn the building back into a functioning entertainment venue, this time presenting live performances, city officials said Tuesday.
“We’re on our way to making that dream come true,” said Marty Markowitz, the Brooklyn borough president, who is to formally announce the restoration in his State of the Borough address Wednesday.
After a four-year process — and many false starts — the city has selected a company based in Houston, ACE Theatrical Group, to renovate and operate the theater. It would be, once again, the biggest indoor theater in Brooklyn, presenting 250 concerts, theatrical performances and community events annually, officials said.
“We feel like we have a deal we can deliver on,” said Seth W. Pinsky, president of the New York City Economic Development Corporation. “We are confident this project is going to move forward.”
ACE, which has worked on similar restoration projects throughout the country, including the Boston Opera House, will soon begin a review and design process that is expected to take a couple of years. Preliminary plans call for the space to open as soon as 2014, Mr. Pinsky said. The city has committed $50 million to the project, with another $15 million coming in the form of tax credits and $5 million from the developer, which would also be responsible for any extra spending, said Mr. Pinsky.
On a stretch of Flatbush Avenue near Beverly Road — which the theater shares with discount furniture and clothing stores, a vacant lot and a boarded-up storefront — news of the renovation was greeted with enthusiasm by residents who had never been inside it. “It would be a great thing if they made it a venue again,” said Ulana Lewin, 30, who works at Relly Clothes across the street. “It would be good for business.”
The Kings, as it was known to generations of Brooklynites, opened on Sept. 7, 1929, with a screening of “Evangeline” and a special appearance by its star, Dolores del Rio. One of five so-called wonder theaters built by Loew’s — sister theaters in Jersey City and elsewhere have been converted into churches or restored into entertainment spaces — the 68,000-square-foot Kings featured vaudeville acts and a pipe organ before moving exclusively to movies.
Over the years, as economics began to favor multiplexes, fewer and fewer of the 3,200 seats were filled. On Aug. 30, 1977, the Kings screened its final feature: “Islands in the Stream,” starring George C. Scott. This time, the star did not stop by for a special appearance. Two years later, the theater, owing back taxes, was seized by the city and began to quietly disintegrate.
“If it was located in Midtown Manhattan it never would have been able to fall into the state of disrepair that it was allowed to fall into,” Mr. Pinsky said.
For the last 10 years, John Friedman, the property manager, has watched over the building he frequented as a younger man. On Tuesday he led a brief tour. The beams of his heavy black flashlight struggled to cut through the gloom, barely reaching the vaulted ceilings in the cavernous orchestra dome.
Some original touches survive, like dusty crystal chandeliers still hanging in the lobby. The stage has aged less gracefully; it is flanked by torn burgundy curtains covered in droppings from birds that roosted inside until a broken skylight was sealed.
David Anderson, the president of ACE Theatrical, said it would take a while to evaluate the extent of the damage, but he emphasized the company’s commitment to the original design. “We’ll be able to recreate what it looks like when it was first put into use,” he said. “We’ll be able to very accurately recreate what is no longer there and restore what is there.”
“It’s an absolutely wonderful space,” said Richard J. Sklenar, executive director of the Theater Historical Society of America. “There’s nothing there that can’t be taken care of; $70 million sounds like it can do the job.”
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