It is no secret that I love history. I love old buildings that are filled to the brim with stories others have forgotten. They sit silently waiting for someone to pay even the slightest bit of attention. It is only when we are in those quiet moments can we communicate with the past. Naturally Kings Theatre is one such place.
I have been aching to get into this place for some time now. Ever since I learned it existed and as I patiently waited for its grand reopening, staying on top of the word on the street. Well now that word has to be shouted from the rooftop. There is a great, hot, new concert venue in Brooklyn and its closer to me than the Barclay Center!
How did I get so lucky, you ask?
This is how.
Once upon a time, there was this glamorous movie theatre where youngsters would bring their dates to in Brooklyn. It was quite a majestic building for such an average outing. Those who attended probably never realized what a gem they were taking for granted. I am certainly a fan of preserving the past in buildings and homes of every kind and everywhere. Once they are no longer reminders of where we came from it becomes harder to celebrate our progress. Pieces from our collective history are invaluable as far as I am concerned.
About a year or so ago, I was reading up on Kings Theatre as part of my daily research for my blog. I heard they were renovating this masterpiece aiming to return it to its prior glory. Before that, I had no idea what lay hidden in that unassuming building so close to my house. Actually I probably didn’t even notice the abandon building falling further into despair as the neighborhood around it were struggling through the beginning of their own gentrification situation.
From then on I kept a watchful eye out for updates on the progress of this renovation. I knew once it reopened there would be much fanfare. What I didn’t appreciate until I was there, was how much work had been put into this project and what a treat it was to have Kings Theatre alive and well again.
In February 2015, Diana Ross performed a concert that kicked off the start of a new chapter in the life of Kings Theatre. From then on I was seeing more and more advertising and hearing about more and more bookings of shows I could actually see myself sitting through. The first star I really longed to see had been there during this month in fact, Kevin James. That would have certainly been something to see.
When I was on the site looking through their upcoming events I noticed that Kings was offering historic tours. I thought that would be perfect for me. I had been dying to get in to see what it was like and holding out for a show that I HAD to see. I didn’t know how long that would take. Unfortunately these tours were only offered on Monday mornings and my day job didn’t think I should take my hour lunch break before I even got into the office.
Since I am interested in a plethora of topics I am a sucker for signing up for just about any newsletter subscription from the websites I frequent. I never know what information I can gather this way and I never want to miss out because I forgot to check back within a certain amount of time. This has served me well time and time again. This time I believe Kings Theatre will be in on the winning side too.
On a random day going through the many, many emails I get soliciting me to see shows, concerts, attend holiday meals at restaurants I patronize, I stumbled upon an offer from Kings Theatre. They were holding their first ever, and I hope more will be on the way, Happy Hour Historic Tour! It would be a weeknight and include booze. I knew instantly there could not be a better time for my initial visit.
When you arrive at the theatre you can clearly see all of the new stores and businesses that have transplanted themselves on this block. There is a giant Gap at the corner and directly across from the theatre there is nothing but scaffolding blocking the view of whatever trendy space will soon inhabit it. It is like standing in the middle of a history book while it is still being written.
In its heyday Kings Theatre was meant for live performances and back when it opened in 1929 that meant Vaudeville. When I hear that word I think of Gypsy Rose Lee as she started out her career as a vaudeville child actor. Thankfully to her, let’s say determined mother, her career ending up creating a whole new stage act, the Strip Tease. P.S. I saw the impossibly perfect Patti Lupone as Mama Rose which itself is a dream come true. I can hear her belting out “Some People” in my head right now, and on my I-Pod (yes I have one and I am holding onto it for dear life) when I commute home.
The building closed in 1977 and was purchased by The City in 1983. From there on it was burglarized and vandalized about as much as was physically possible. Because of the ornate décor the materials that were once purchased from catalogs had become very valuable and were stolen. As the area around it changed for the worse, this continued to happen until every last copper wire had been removed. I kid you not. Demographics are a powerful beast.
The road back was a long one. In 2005 a former patron began the process of getting this project off the ground. By 2008 New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) was involved and looking for other investors. The $95 million project took two years to complete (2013-2015) and the Kings Theatre Redevelopment Company (compiled of several kinds of backers) was the organization in charge. There is currently a fifty-five year lease in place.
According to the Kings Theatre website:
“As one of the five original “Loew’s Wonder Theatres,” the Kings was originally ordained a movie and live performance theatre of epic proportion……………With the depression and the decline of vaudeville in the early 1930s, the theatre converted to showing only feature films. From the 1950s through the mid-1970s, the Loew’s Kings Theatre faced a steady decline. With the onset of multiplexes, it was nearly impossible for the Kings to compete with only a single screen in its arsenal.”
When it comes to the incredible renovation, they go on to say:
“Original plaster and painting schemes have been restored, vintage carpet and seating have been recreated and historic lighting fixtures have been renovated and re-installed. New state-of-the-art building systems, including new HVAC, expanded patron restrooms and concessions facilities will provide the very finest in patron comfort.”
The tour itself was beyond informative. There were around ten or so people attending. I was just happy not to be the only one there. It was a strange but very cool feeling to be walking through this place learning about its former life as well as the thousands of tasks it took to get it to this point. There was an introductory film that was only a few minutes long. The images present shows the transformation from what the building was like when workers first broken in all the way through its current state. If you did not know what Kings Theatre had been through you would have sworn you pulled up into your very own French style manor, which is no coincidence as it was inspired by the Palace of Versailles. I could have guessed.
The lobby is so impressive I could have stood there and sipped wine until the end of time. There is just so much to look at. It totally transformed me. I felt like I had taken a trip to another place and time. It was magical.
Of the many facts I learned these are the ones that stand out the most for me:
· This property is City owned but privately managed, thank God;
· There are three thousand seats that are more comfortable than you
will find attending a play;
· The nearby parking lot has four hundred and twenty spaces;
· This building is not a historic landmark, but rather has historic features
both inside and out;
· The Ladies Lounge and King’s Club are reserved as VIP areas now but
originally were smoking lounges and bathrooms that contain some of
the actual furniture;
· Anywhere you sit you are at most one hundred fifty or one hundred
fifty-five feet from the stage (there are no balcony seats); and my
· This was the first theater to have air-conditioning in the 1960’s and is
still the perfect temperature, which for me is a blessing.
I hope this brand new “Broadway in Brooklyn” stays forever. I would love to see many more stars take advantage of this venue and the many people who are aching to return for all of their entertainment needs. It is sort of hard to reach by public transportation alone, but now people from other boroughs know how much fun it was all of the years we Brooklynites had to schlep to and from Madison Square Garden. It was no picnic that is for sure.
Secretly I am keeping my fingers crossed that Bill Maher, Jerry Seinfeld, and Mary J. Blige will book dates. Toni Braxton, Ne-Yo, and Robin Thicke are all performing next week as a way to promote the Grammy Awards. Those are some pretty big gets. I know the older people in my tour group would love to have some Brooklyn artists return to the stage here, especially Barbra Streisand, although I don’t know how likely that is. But if it’s good enough for Diana Ross and Gladys Knight it should be good enough for Babs.
As you can see from this year’s brand new to do list (http://thequeenoff-ckingeverything.blogspot.com/2016/04/for-year-6-20162017-to-do-list_19.html), I can now cross off Kings Theatre and soon enough the Brooklyn Historical Society too. In July I am attending a talk entitled: “Brownstone Brooklyn: Pioneers in the Gentrification Movement” with City Limits Publisher Jarrett Murphy, historian Suleiman Osman, and New York Times columnist Ginia Bellafante.
There is much new activity all over Brooklyn nowadays specifically in Coney Island. They now have their own amphitheater with a series of summer concerts from many of your favorite artists. Anyone who lives in Brooklyn or spends much time here has no excuse for being bored and stuck at home (see link below).
On similar note, the creators behind Brooklyn Night Bazaar are in the midst of renovating their new venue in a former Greenpoint banquet hall that had been empty since 2013. This new site will have retail therapy, restaurants, entertainment, and just about anything else you want to do. It is slated to open in August (see link below).
You are only as good as your weakest employee and although I only met three of them on this tour that was enough to convince me of the future success that the Theatre will no doubt have.
I would like to give a special thanks for our hosts and tour guide for the evening, General Manager Jason Sandoval.
I can’t wait to see what you boys dream up next.
I will be checking my emails.
For More Information on Kings Theatre:
For Other Brooklyn Hot Spots:
For More Tour Information: