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Keith-Albee Theatre, or RKO Keith’s Theater

April 20, 2011
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

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29 Comments leave one →
  1. April 20, 2011 10:42 pm

    These are all amazing. The first one I had to stare at for awhile:)

  2. April 23, 2011 10:36 am

    This is just a sad miracle of loss. I am heading out to Flushing, and looking for the back door…

  3. Popum permalink
    April 27, 2011 2:21 pm

    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.

  4. Cole Ghunders permalink
    June 18, 2011 12:34 am

    It’s unfortunate this magnificent theater is going to end up as condos.

  5. July 19, 2011 8:17 pm

    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.

  6. Peter Johnson permalink
    August 29, 2011 4:34 pm

    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.

  7. Rob Schwimmer permalink
    October 4, 2011 3:15 am

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

  8. ron seiler permalink
    October 10, 2011 9:36 am

    I remember seeing Jerry Lewis on stage publicizing his new movie the bellboy in 1960

  9. WILLIAM GREENWALD permalink
    October 19, 2011 11:29 am

    Saw the Ali and Norton fight here with friends. Ali won in the last round. I will miss it very much.

  10. Bruce Sanders permalink
    January 31, 2012 11:37 am

    Developer Tommy Huang should RUN OUT OF TOWN….but only AFTER he’s fined for what he did.

  11. John P permalink
    February 2, 2012 4:01 pm

    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!!!!

  12. Christina permalink
    February 14, 2012 9:38 pm

    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”.

  13. Em Elbem permalink
    April 13, 2012 6:24 pm

    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.

  14. Em Elbem permalink
    April 13, 2012 6:37 pm

    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?

  15. Bobster855 permalink
    May 7, 2012 7:30 pm

    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.

  16. December 11, 2013 4:19 am

    With thanks! It is definitely an outstanding website!

  17. rich z permalink
    January 2, 2014 1:20 am

    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.

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