Keith-Albee Theatre, or RKO Keith’s Theater

balcony of keith's theatre
View from the balcony of the Keiths Theatre

The RKO Keith’s Theatre, originally called the Keith-Albee Theatre, opened Christmas Day, 1928 at 1:00 PM.  Located in Flushing, Queens, it was designed by Thomas W. Lamb, an architect known for his theater designs, which can also be seen in New York’s Ziegfeld Theatre and Proctor’s 58th Street (which was built simultaneously with the Keith’s).

The first movie shown in the theater was “Three Week Ends,” a silent film starring one of the true embodiments of the roaring twenties, Clara Bow. 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 main level of the auditorium

The Keith’s was designed in the Spanish Baroque Revival style and had 2974 seats. The ceiling was painted a deep blue so that clouds seemed to move across the ceiling, making it look like clouds floating across the night 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 and Proctor’s 58th Street.

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.

Upper level of the lobby area

The lobby of the Keiths was given landmark status in 1984. 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 it’s landmark status, and stripped it to prepare for renovations.

RKO Keith's Theatre Smoking room
The main floor mens smoking room

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 auditorium and replace it with a 17-story tower that houses 357 apartments, a senior center and retail space.  Of the original architecture, only the lobby and ticket booth will be saved.

One of the remaining murals in the auditorium

Most of the area above the lobby has been stripped to the framework

41 thoughts on “Keith-Albee Theatre, or RKO Keith’s Theater

  1. My high school graduation (Flushing High School) was held here in 1961. About 900 graduates and families. I also remember early dates in the balcony.

  2. The style is VERY similar to the Majestic Theatre in San Antonio, Texas, which was completely restored and is the home of the San Antonio Symphony and a popular venue for touring shows.

  3. I SO hope you save this lobby at least – so sad – I grew up in Flushing and the theater was my favorite place – the powder room was a little girl’s fantasy of what a movie star’s house would look like, and the lobby – wow – I can’t believe the developer got away with what he did.

  4. I remember seeing the Dave Clark Five movie there in ’65 and having them walk out onstage afterwards… and the crowd goes wild

  5. Wow, My brothers use to tell me about this place. It looked so Amazing. I’m upset that stuff like this has to Happen!!!! BRING BACK THE THEATER!!!!

  6. Seeing Poltergeist was the last time I was in this theater. I was younger then and unaware of the theater’s magnificence. To recall what it looked like through photos of it’s deterioration is so sad – like the opening scene of the movie Titanic only this is a “theater wreck”.

  7. My brother and I saw Superman and Star Wars in this grand theater. We use to stare up at the magnificent saphire-blue lit ceiling before the movie started. I even caught myself a few times looking up at the the theater’s ceiling during the actual movie. I even remember where we sat. We pretty much always sat on the main floor close to an aisle towards the left. The detailed moulding, murals and framework throughout this majestic theater just added to its grandeur. After the movie, we would linger around and take in its magnificence. As a little girl it was such a treat to be able to see a movie there. The theater looked so rich that I wondered as a little girl if it resembled the rich folks mansions. It is so disappointing to see it in such disrepair.

  8. An apartment complex with Senior center and retail space? My guess is that somehow the senior center idea will be ditched and luxury apartments will go up. Great, more unaffordable housing. The community would still like to see a movie theater there. A municipal parking is just walking distance away. Can’t this theater still be salvaged and restored? How long will a NYC landmark be allowed to decay like this?

  9. Thank you for taking and posting these photos! The RKO Keith’s was a big part of my life growing up in Flushing during the 1960s and ’70s. I saw so many movies here, including The Godfather and The Godfather II, but probably my favorite was Murder on the Orient Express in 1974. The decor of the RKO perfectly matched that of the film. I think the last movie I saw there was either Star Trek 2 or Return of the Jedi. It’s been sad to see the theater sitting there empty for the last quarter century, and even sadder to see how it’s fallen into disrepair. I hope that if it proves impossible to restore the RKO as a theater, at least the lobby will be restored and serve as a reminder of this once-great palace.

  10. My dad saw just about everything there since 1937 on, he took me there around 1970, and told me of Boris Karloff and others that played there live, awesome memories, I saw ROCKY 1 there, and I am pretty sure I saw STAR WARS there too…WHAT A CRIMINAL Shame, I know the area is completely oriental, and they have no history in that theatre, well, that’s where we are at today, Flushing History down the drain, THE TOWN was name correctly, glad I left.

  11. I remember seeing a midnight movie – I think it was the 1973 movie about Jimi Hendrix – from the balcony. In 1973, the balcony scene was wild, with toking and groping abundant. Very sad to see what has become of this magnificent theater.

  12. I grew up in Flushing and RKO Keith was always one of my favorite places. Although I moved from Queens years ago, I am furious that we let our grand, historic palace fall into such disrepair. It’s so sad tgat we allowed a greedy developer to do this. I truly pray that the theater gets completely restored to its original state so our children and grandchildren can enjoy it for years to come.

  13. I grew up in flushing in the late 50s and 60s and this was an icon and a treasure, I remember meeting Mr lenahan who was the manager for the grand opening of the Keiths who ended his career as a manager of the Roosevelt theatre when I was a young man then working as an usher so long ago….Art Frey (73)

  14. I lived in Flushing from 1969 until 1993. My dad was a vaudeville headliner in 1920s and he performed there when it was a vaudeville theater. I took my children to the RKO Keith a lot. We saw Star Wars and The Godfather there among others. I remember when that terrible developer destroyed that beautiful theater. I live in Manhattan now and just came from the Ziegfeld Theater to see Star Wars which will only be shown tomorrow and then the theater will close. New owners will make it into a conference center with ballroom. It made me think of the RKO Keith and I wonder what the last movie was to play there. Does anyone know? Mary

    1. Hi Mary – The RKO Keith’s was triplexed in the late 1970s so there were actually three movies shown on the final day. They were “Texas Chainsaw Massacre II”, “Night of the Creeps”, and “Running Scared.” The last showing of “Texas Chainsaw Messacre II” was at 11:10 PM and the movie was 2 hours and 20 minutes long so that would make it the last movie shown at the RKO Keith’s.

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