The RKO Keith’s Theatre, originally called the Keith-Albee Theatre, opened on Christmas Day, 1928 at 1:00 PM in Flushing, Queens. It was designed by Thomas W. Lamb, an architect known for his theater designs, such as the Palace and Majestic Theaters in Bridgeport, CT. “Three Week Ends,” a silent film starring one of the true embodiments of the roaring twenties, Clara Bow was the first film shown at the Keith’s. The theater was operated by the Keith-Albee-Orpheum Corporation until 1929, when it was acquired by the Radio Corporation of America to form RKO Pictures. The Keith-Albee was then renamed RKO Keith’s Theatre.
The 2974 seat Keith’s was designed in the Spanish Baroque Revival style. Spanish facades surround the walls, and the ceiling is a deep blue dome. The ceiling was painted that color so that clouds could be projected on it giving the illusion that the theatergoer was sitting under the night’s sky. The cloud effect came from projectors on either side of the balcony, which broke in the theater’s later years. Lamb designed other theaters with the same atmospheric effect, including the Loew’s Pitkin in Brooklyn.
In the center of the oval-shaped lobby was a fountain with a centerpiece featuring a statue of Cupid surrounded by several dolphins and stocked live goldfish. It was moved before the theater closed and is rumored to be in either an East Village restaurant or a dentist’s office in New Jersey. In 1984, the lobby of the Keiths was given New York City landmark status. The building was sold in 1986 to developer Tommy Huang, who closed the theater a few months later. Shortly after, Huang announced the theater would be torn down to make way for a mall. The Flushing community was outraged, and people protested in front of the theater. Huang started work on the theater’s lobby, disregarding its landmark status and stripped it to prepare for renovations.
The city stopped demolition in February 1987 — since then, the Keith’s has been in a state of disrepair. A plan was recently approved that proposes to tear down the building and replace it with a 16-story building with 269 apartments and retail space. Of the original architecture, only the lobby and ticket booth will be saved. In 2018 Evergreene Architectural Arts, removed all the ornamental plasterwork in the lobby and entryway and the wooden ticket booth, as it was feared they were too fragile to survive during construction. The pieces will be restored and reassembled when the construction of the new building is almost complete. Demolition of the auditorium was completed by July 2021.
Matt Lambros NY Jun 16, 2022 Abandoned Places Architecture History