B.F Keith’s Prospect Theatre opened on September 7, 1914 in the Prospect Park neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY. The 2,381 seat theater was constructed on the site of a synagogue and three apartment buildings. It was designed by architect William McElfatrick for the Keith Vaudeville Company. The Prospect was dubbed “the woodless and postless theater” while it was being built due to the fact that no wood was used in its construction and there were no posts helping to support the balcony. Woodwork was left out of the building so that the theater would be much safer if a fire broke out. The balcony was supported by a 65 ton steel beam, which eliminated the need for support beams that could have obstructed views during performances. Opening advertisements boasted that the balcony was strong enough to support the world’s ten heaviest locomotives.
According to an article in the New York Clipper, a weekly entertainment newspaper, the Prospect originally presented shows from the Keith’s Palace Theatre in Manhattan, which was the flagship theater of the Keith’s circuit at the time. Brooklyn Borough President Lewis H. Pounds was unable to attend the opening celebration, but sent along a message that read, “By building one of the finest theaters in the United States in the heart of Brooklyn, the Keith interests have paid a tribute to the wonderful growth of the borough.” The Prospect opened with a stage show called The Bride Shop as well as performances from Sam & Kitty Norton, Nellie V. Nichols, Joe Jackson, Lyons & Yosco, The Great Asahi, Kluting’s Entertainers, Gliding O’Mearas, and Weber & Capitola. Vaudeville acts performed at the theater twice a day until May 15, 1916, when the theater switched to showing silent films in conjunction with the live acts. A Moller organ was installed in 1920, and replaced by a Wurlitzer Opus 1497 in October 1926.
In 1922 Ted Healy, a comedian from Brooklyn, was scheduled to perform at the theater but the acrobat in his act quit. As luck would have it, Moses Horwitz, an old childhood friend of Healy’s who was also a vaudeville performer, was backstage waiting to say hello to him. Healy asked Horwitz, better known today as Moe Howard, to temporarily join his act and Horwitz agreed. The show was a huge hit and soon after Moe’s brother Samuel (Shemp) joined them as Ted Healy and his Stooges. The temporary partnership ended up lasting over ten years before splitting up. In 1934 Howard, his other brother Jerome (Curly), and Larry Fine signed with Columbia Pictures as the Three Stooges.
In October 1928, The Radio Corporation of America (RCA) combined with the Keith-Albee-Orpheum (KAO) vaudeville theater circuit, and the Film Booking Offices of America (FBO) to form Radio-Keith-Orpheum also known as the RKO Corporation. A little over a year after the merger the theater was renamed the R.K.O Prospect Theatre. Around the same time vaudeville acts had begun to be phased out in favor of motion pictures, and when they did perform it was as a short opening act for the feature films. However, vaudeville returned to the Prospect five years later on July 16, 1932. This was partially due to patrons writing the theater and promising to support vaudeville shows. Tap dancers Cherry Blossom and June, the Radio Rogues, comedians Bud and Jack Pearson performed during the opening night. The famous illusionist Hardeen, the brother of Houdini, performed at the theater on March 28, 1933, and escaped from a specially constructed packing case.
The Prospect played a very small role in the USSR/USA conflict known as the Cold War. On August 3, 1948, Whittaker Chambers, a former Communist Party member, testified before the House Committee on Un-American Activities that he introduced Alger Hiss, who worked for the State Department, to a Soviet spy in the balcony of the Prospect Theatre in early 1937. On Sunday January 28, 1962, the Three Stooges, which at the time consisted of Moe Howard, Larry Fine and Curly-Joe DeRita, returned to the theater while on a promotional tour for their film “The Three Stooges Meet Hercules.” Accompanying them on the bill was Dave Ballard, an almost eight foot tall man known as “The Herculean Giant”, and DJ Clay Cole.
The Prospect closed in 1967, and the main level was converted into a supermarket in 1970. The lobby, and orchestra sections were gutted, while the balcony and stage area were closed off. In 1986, two Brooklyn developers, Gary Rosen and Jacob Bouganim, bought the 16,000-square-foot stage area as well as the 100 by 700 foot lot beneath it for $500,000, and turned it into 15 condominiums. According to Bouganim, they were interested in the building because it’s much high than most of the buildings in the neighborhood, and has unobstructed views of Manhattan. The balcony is all that remains of the original Prospect Theatre.