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Fare Thee Well RKO Keith

A look back at the soon to be something else other than an abandoned movie theater.

It's safe to say they did things differently back when, and if you look at old photos of the RKO Keith on Main Street, you'll see what we mean.

This Spanish Baroque theater was, and in some ways still is, truly one of a kind.

Designed by architect Thomas Lamb and opened Christmas Day 1928, the RKO boasted a signature ceiling painted with an imitation blue sky.

Underneath that sky were walls lined with gilded plaster galleries and a 75-foot-wide grand foyer fully equipped with a large fountain in between two sweeping marble staircases.

Certainly, not the modern day multiplex of our time.

Case in point, even the main auditorium at RKO, which though partly demolished, remains mostly intact today, featured a series of gilt plaster facades, chandeliers and columns.

Most can agree, it's a scene starkly different from the average movie theater experience today—one filled with drab, dark decor, a periodically sticky floor (from god knows what), and that special hollow feeling, void of any real character or style, which most theaters fancy today.

Not to bash on modern times, it's just a spade's a spade.

But infinitely ornate decor of the RKO aside, it's perhaps the controversy, which continues to surround the redevelopment of the Keith that's grown to become the real story behind the once grand movie palace.

Bought by Tommy Huang in 1987 and almost immediately gutted before community boards could act, RKO Keith was hence abandoned for almost 25 years after the city put a stop work order in place.

Then early 2011, the Keith was sold to Manhattan developer Patrick Thompson for $20 million dollars and a promise to restore the once grand foyer.

And so it would seem, in light of last month's announcement by the city that the FAA's concerns over having a 17 story structure in such close proximity to LaGuardia Airport would not block the inevitable construction of something at the RKO, the final chapter in the on going RKO Keith Saga might have just been written.

Still, one can't help but wonder what will become of the old RKO Keith in Flushing Queens and will something else hold up the restoration of this once great landmark.

Wideimaging November 10, 2011 at 11:13 PM
A 17 story high density rental apartment building that demolishes the theatre only to use a 66' x 38' part of the lobby can hardly be described as a restoration.
Michael Perlman November 20, 2011 at 07:16 AM
Any attempt to boast about the theater's restoration by elected officials or a developer is not accurate. How does plans to restore a landmarked lobby justify for approximately 90% of the theater that would undergo demolition for a glass monolith condo? There have been theaters in comparable or worse shape which have been restored countrywide. This is a legendary theater designed by America's foremost theater architect, Thomas Lamb. The de-landmarked auditorium & other de-landmarked areas are largely intact, & needing restoration work. According to a recent survey, enough is present of the original detail to merit that. This is one thing politicians will deny. They will tell you nothing is left beyond the landmarked lobby. That rather small part of the theater is required by law to preserve anyway, so they think they're doing us a favor by "saving the RKO Keith's?" Think of all the murals, tilework, friezes, ornate moldings, and archways, to name a few distinctive details, which would be destroyed for a chunk of glass condos bring major traffic. Inexcusable!

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