2016-03-09 / Editorials

Too Late For The RKO Keith’s Theatre??

The RKO Keith’s movie palace of a bygone era in Flushing is getting flipped yet again. The latest plan was for it to be turned into a high-rise with only remnants of its former glory displayed in the lobby, but with the outside bearing not a hint of the original style. The current owner Flushing Square Realty has just put the property up for sale – yet again. Just when the developer, JK Equities, which finalized plans to build a 17-story, mixed-use apartment building just about a year ago should have been starting construction. We are wondering what is going on.

Queens Borough President Melinda Katz was a big supporter of the renovation of the New York State Pavilion, and to that we say, kudos! We can only wonder to what do we owe the lack of enthusiasm for what was arguably one of our borough’s greatest treasures? The RKO Keith’s is listed on the National Register of Historic Places (since 1982) and the ticket lobby and grand foyer were landmarked by the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission. Yet it has gone from developer to developer, remaining in limbo since it was shut down as a movie theatre, passing through four owners that left it to rot, one of whom destroyed or allowed the destruction of important sections within the edifice.

A similarly grand theatre in Brooklyn, the Kings Theatre has been renovated and now serves as a magnificent concert hall which draws audiences from all over.

Opened on December 25, 1928 as a vaudeville house and movie theatre, the magnificent RKO Keith’s provided relief for our people suffering from the Great Depression and World War II, hosting the top stars of the day for live performances and continuing as a movie theatre all the way until 1986. The beloved over-the-top extravaganza that is part of our heritage, a record of an era never to be forgotten, is not trash to be disposed of, for any amount of profit. True, there are other theatres which have survived, such as Radio City Music Hall, and the Kings Theatre, but one of the most beautiful theatres in the city was the RKO Keith’s. Not only is it historically valuable, but as a concert hall it would be an economic and cultural boon to the borough as well. This was a treasure and great source of pride. Shall we let our descendants think we never had such a jewel?

Some of us were lucky enough to have experienced the RKO in its former glory. Watching blockbuster films and even having our commencement ceremonies held within the fabulous creation, we were transported to a fantastic world. It was as important to the community as any art museum. Perhaps this latest “development” is a reprieve, signaling it is not too late for the embattled theatre. There are thousands of advocates who have never given up clamoring for the rescue of the RKO Keith’s, and to them, we add our voice.

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