Prospect Theatre

View of the remains of the Prospect Theatre.
View of the remains of the Prospect Theatre.

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.

Historic image courtesy of the Brooklyn Theatre Index.
Historic image courtesy of Theatre Talks

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.

The ceiling of the Prospect Theatre.
The ceiling of the Prospect Theatre.

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.

 

The Proscenium arch was damaged in the 1980's when the stage house was converted in to condominiums.
The Proscenium arch was damaged in the 1980’s when the stage house was converted in to condominiums.

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.

 

Mayor LaGuardia ordered the theater to close for one day on Thursday, August 9, 1934 as punishment for holding a “Shirley Temple Resemblance Contest.” Joseph Freytag, the theater manager, applied for a permit to hold the contest but was denied.
Mayor LaGuardia ordered the theater to close for one day on Thursday, August 9, 1934 as punishment for holding a “Shirley Temple Resemblance Contest.” Joseph Freytag, the theater manager, applied for a permit to hold the contest but was denied.

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 projector room was added after the theater opened in 1914.
The projector room was added after the theater opened in 1914.

The Prospect closed in 1967. In 1970 the lobby, and orchestra sections were gutted and converted into a supermarket.Gary Rosen and Jacob Bouganim, two Brooklyn developers, bought the 16,000-square-foot stage area as well as the 100 by 700 foot lot beneath it for $500,000 in 1986. They converted 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.

The interior of the projector room is full of construction debris.
The interior of the projector room is full of construction debris.
Much of the interior decor was removed in the 1940's.
Much of the interior decor was removed in the 1940’s.

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Return

Prospect Theatre, Brooklyn, NY
Prospect Theatre, Brooklyn, NY

 

Is this thing on? I’m happy to announce that the hiatus is over! I’ve reached a point with the book (more on that soon, I promise) where I can start making regular updates to the site once again. The first post goes live tomorrow and will be familiar to those of you who follow AtFC on Facebook – The Prospect Theatre in Brooklyn, NY.

Kings Theatre – The Rise, Fall and Rebirth of Brooklyn’s Wonder Theatre

 

Proscenium arch from the balcony, Loew's Kings Theatre.  B&W Image from the Loew’s Collection, American Theatre Architecture Archive, Theatre Historical Society of America
Proscenium arch from the balcony, Loew’s Kings Theatre.
B&W Image from the Loew’s Collection, American Theatre Architecture Archive, Theatre Historical Society of America

 

I’m very excited to announce that I’ve partnered with the Theatre Historical Society of America for my first book: Kings Theatre, The Rise, Fall and Rebirth of Brooklyn’s Wonder Theatre. The book will cover the entire history of the Loew’s Kings Theatre from it’s original construction to the reopening late 2014/early 2015.  I’ve photographed over 75 abandoned theaters over the past 5 years, and being able to document one being restored has been amazing. Every visit to the theater has been awe inspiring and I can’t wait to share what I’ve seen with all of you. 

Thanks to everyone at THS, ACE Theatrical Group, Evergreene Architectural Arts, Martinez + Johnson Architecture and Gilbane Building Company for all the help bringing this project to fruition.

Kings Theatre after renovation.
Kings Theatre after renovation.

For more information check out the Theatre Historical Society of America’s press release on the project :

http://www.historictheatres.org/assets/Press-Release-Announcing-Theatre-Historical-Society-partners-with-Matt-Lambros-for-Kings-Theatre-Book1.pdf

 

Theater Updates

In light of the recent demolition of the Boyd Theatre in Philadelphia, I thought I’d post an update for some of the theaters I’ve visited over the years.

 

View from the balcony of the Loew's Kings Theatre during renovation.
View from the balcony of the Loew’s Kings Theatre during renovation.

The Loew’s Kings Theatre in Brooklyn has undergone a $94 million restoration, and will reopen as a performing arts center in late 2014/early 2015.

The large mirrors in the Boyd's lobby are some of the art deco features that will be preserved.
The large mirrors in the Boyd’s lobby are some of the art deco features that will be preserved.

The Boyd Theatre was demolished in the spring of 2014, despite the efforts of the Friends of the Boyd. This demolition means that Philadelphia is one of the only large cities in America without at least one restored downtown movie palace. Fortunately, the Friends of the Boyd were able to come to an agreement with the owners to preserve some of the art deco features of the theater.

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Snapshot: Empress Theatre

Post 3 in the Snapshot Series  – Occasionally in my travels I come across a theater that I can’t find a lot of information on, or that I only have a chance to photograph for an hour or two. They’re still beautiful and fascinating, so they definitely have a place on After the Final Curtain

The remains of the Empress Theatre's proscenium arch.
The remains of the Empress Theatre’s proscenium arch.

The Empress Theatre opened in 1927 in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. The 1,595 seat theater was built by architect Charles A. Sandblom, who is also known for the Gramercy Theater in Manhattan. Originally part of the Century Circuit, the theater became part of the RKO circuit in 1929.

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And Now for Something (kind of) Different

B&W Image from the Loew’s Collection, American Theatre Architecture Archive, Theatre Historical Society of America
B&W Image from the Loew’s Collection, American Theatre Architecture Archive, Theatre Historical Society of America

I’m currently working on something I’m very excited about, but can’t announce just yet. I still want to give you all a hint though! 

The photos in the triptych above are of the Loew’s Kings Theatre lobby when the theater was open, 30 years after it had been closed, and six months into the restoration.

Keep an eye out for more details soon!

 

 

 

© Matthew Lambros and After the Final Curtain, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Matthew Lambros and After the Final Curtain with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Lecture Update

National Theatre Detroit, MI

Just a quick reminder – there are still tickets available to my lecture at the Observatory in Brooklyn on December 3 at 7:30PM.

Tickets can be purchased at http://www.eventbrite.com/event/4687750187?ref=elink

For more information about the lecture check out Atlas Obscura  and the Observatory’s websites.

http://atlasobscura.com/blog/american-palace

http://observatoryroom.org/2012/11/07/the-fall-of-the-american-movie-palace-2/

Shore Theatre (Loew’s Coney Island Theatre)

Loew's Coney Island Theatre Brooklyn, NY
View of the auditorium from the balcony.

The Shore Theatre opened as the Loew’s Coney Island Theatre on June 17, 1925. The 2,387 seat theater was built by the Chanin Construction Company, which was also known for the construction of the now demolished Roxy Theatre in Manhattan. Before opening, the theater was leased to the Loew’s theater chain. The Shore was designed in a Renaissance revival style by the Reilly & Hall architecture firm, who were proteges of famed theater architect Thomas W. Lamb.

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The Fall of the American Movie Palace

View of the Loew’s Palace Theatre from the balcony.

Hi everyone – I want to let you all know about an upcoming event.

On August 18, I’ll be giving a lecture on “The Fall of the American Movie Palace” as part of the Atlas Obscura Speakers series of talks at the Observatory in Brooklyn.

Here’s some information about it from the Observatory’s website:

There’s nothing remarkable about a movie theater today, but there used to be. When the great American Movie Palaces opened, they were some of the most lavish, stunning buildings anyone had ever seen. With the birth of the multiplex, theater companies found it harder and harder to keep these buildings open. Some were demolished, some were converted, and some remain to this day. “The Fall of the American Movie Palace” will take you through the history of these magnificent buildings, from their opening in the early 1900s to years after the final curtain.

Check out Atlas Obscura for more information, and to purchase tickets. http://atlasobscura.com/blog/Obscura-Society-NYC-Movie-Palace

Tickets can also be purchased at http://obscura-society-nyc-movie-palace-es2.eventbrite.com/?srnk=1