Loew’s Kings Theatre Part 2 – The Early Years

The original Loew’s Kings policy was to bring Broadway entertainment to a neighborhood district, which was a departure from the long-established operating plan of the Loew’s Theatres Corporation. During the first few months of 1930, the Kings, Valencia, and Pitkin Theatres were advertised as “Loew’s Wonder Theatres” and given top billing in local newspapers as they all hosted vaudeville performances from Loew’s Capitol Theatre in Manhattan. A show would open at the Capitol and then move to the Kings, Valencia, or Pitkin before moving on to another one of the Loew’s theaters in the New York Metropolitan area. That changed on June 7th, 1930 when Loew’s announced a new summer program for the Kings that they called “All the Show on the Screen.”

Loew’s Theatre Advertisement in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

Loew’s stopped the vaudeville performances, lowered ticket prices, and switched to a Wednesday/Saturday schedule for films. A number of factors contributed to the change, the main one was the worldwide economic recession known as the Great Depression. On October 29, 1929, less than two months after the Kings opened, the stock market crash led to a severe economic depression. Because of this, attendance at certain Loew’s theaters, including the Kings, had dropped; people could not afford the higher priced vaudeville shows. Another reason that attendance dropped at the Kings was neighborhood competition from the nearby Flatbush and Kenmore Theatres which were also presenting vaudeville shows. Finally, the Kings size proved to be a detriment for live performances. Most of the seats were on the main floor, and performers complained that they could not “reach” people in the back rows. Even though Loew’s claimed it was just for the summer of 1930, the summer policy was never reversed, and the Kings joined the Bedford, Coney Island, Kameo, and Oriental Theatres as Loew’s Perfect Talking Screens, which was Loew’s term for theaters that only showed motion pictures.

The lobby shortly after the theater opened.

In 1933, Paramount-Famous-Lasky Company was unable to pay its debts and was forced to file for bankruptcy. Soon after this, Loew’s Inc. stopped making mortgage payments to the Allied Owners Corporation on the Kings, Valencia, and Pitkin Theatres. Since Allied Owners had been originally formed to finance the Kings, Brooklyn Paramount, Pitkin, and Valencia, not being paid for three of the four theaters caused that company to declare bankruptcy as well. Allied Owners then filed suit against Loew’s and Paramount for the missed payments. The case was settled in August 1934 for $12,875,000 to be paid over a period of 25 years. The closing of the sale took place the following year on July 29, 1935 when the Kings, Valencia, and Pitkin officially became the property of Loew’s Inc. Rumor has it that Loew’s Inc. stopped the payment to Allied Owners because they were trying to acquire Paramount during the bankruptcy proceedings, but Paramount emerged from bankruptcy before Loew’s was able to take over.

Men’s Lounge located on the mezzanine level of the lobby. The mural on the wall depicts a knight slaying a dragon and rescuing a princess.

For the first twenty years, the Kings primarily showed MGM and Paramount films, but that changed in 1948 because of the results of a United States Supreme Court case. The United States v. Paramount Pictures, Inc., also known as the Hollywood Antitrust Case of 1948, decreed that movie studios were no longer allowed to own theaters and hold exclusive rights on where the films they produced were shown. Studios owning theater circuits had created monopolies in some areas, and the verdict forced Loew’s and MGM to split into two separate companies in 1952.

Blueprint for the replacement marquee.

In 1949, Loew’s decided to give a number of their theaters an upgrade by replacing the original marquees and vertical signs with more modern ones. They contracted Art Kraft Strauss, the company that originally installed the marquee and vertical sign on the Kings, to install new ones. On December 14, 1949 the old marquee was removed and the new one was installed over the next few weeks finishing on January 9, 1950. It was designed to fit over the frame of the original with the original underbelly remaining. The original vertical sign came down almost a year later on October 27, 1950 and its replacement was installed over the next few days. It was lit for the first time on November 3, 1950. Unfortunately, the blade wasn’t properly secured to the facade of the building, and it would sway slightly in the wind. On an especially windy day in late November it began to sway so badly that the police had to cordon off the front of the theater because they were afraid it was going to fall off. Art Kraft Strauss sent workers to secure the sign and reattach the letters “E” and “O” in “LOEW’S which had come loose during the swinging.

Part Three will be available soon. Material from for this post was taken from the first three chapters of my book, Kings Theatre; The Rise, Fall and Rebirth of Brooklyn’s Wonder Theater.  If you’d like to buy a copy they are available on Amazon, and on my website.

Historic photographs and blueprints are from the archival collections of the Theatre Historical Society of America.

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2019

Undisclosed Theatre – USA.

2019 is going to be a big year for After the Final Curtain. First, in December 2019 it will be 10 years since I first photographed the Loew’s Kings Theatre in Brooklyn, NY and kicked off the project that turned into After the Final Curtain. Second, I’ve been hard at work on the follow up to 2016’s After the Final Curtain: The Fall of the American Movie Theater, which should be out later this year. I’m going to set up a book tour around the release of the book, so if there are any places you’d like me to stop at be sure to let me know!

Third, I’ll be announcing the first photography workshops of 2019 in the next few days. I’m just waiting on confirmation from two of the new locations.

Thanks for following my work and I hope you all are having a happy 2019.

Loew’s Kings Theatre Part 1 – Building and Opening

I’ve decided to expand my post on the Kings Theatre into four parts using some excerpts from my book, Kings Theatre; The Rise, Fall and Rebirth of Brooklyn’s Wonder Theatre. Find out more about the book here.

Blueprints for the auditorium of the Kings.

Originally a carport for the Brooklyn Railroad Company, 1027 Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn, where the Kings was built, was actually almost the home of another theater ten years earlier. William Fox of the Fox Film Corporation purchased the property on November 1, 1919, and intended to build the biggest theater in Brooklyn on the site. Fox hired famed theater architect Thomas W. Lamb to design a 3500 seat theater on the property, but it never happened. Fox liked to buy land in areas he thought could be or needed a theater, often never building anything and just selling the land years later.

Workers constructing the foundation of the theater.

In 1927, Famous Players (Paramount) entered into an agreement with the Allied Owners Corporation, a subsidiary of New York Investors, Inc., to finance the construction of the theater. According to the agreement, the Allied Owners Corp. would hold the deed to the Flatbush Ave. property along with three others in New York and one in Birmingham, Alabama and finance the construction of the theaters. Upon completion, the theaters would be leased to the Paramount-Famous Players- Lasky Corporation to repay the bond. In October 1927, Allied Owners sold an issue of $9,500,000 real estate bonds and used the profits to finance the building of the five theaters. These theaters were the Paramount, Kings, and Pitkin in Brooklyn, the Valencia in Jamaica, NY, and the Alabama Theatre in Birmingham.

View from the main level of the auditorium of the Loew’s Valencia in Queens, NY.

When the Loew’s Corporation found out about the theaters, Nicholas Schenck contacted Paramount to offer a new deal. In exchange for showing Paramount Films in over 40 of Loew’s theaters, Paramount would sublease three of the four New York theaters over to Loew’s, keeping the one located in downtown Brooklyn.When the agreement was finalized, the Pitkin, the Valencia, and the Kings opened as Loew’s theaters. The theaters would be paid for in 181 monthly payments: $20,983 a month for The Kings, $18,873 for The Pitkin, and, $18,228 a month for The Valencia.

Blueprint for the auditorium ceiling.

Paramount hired the architectural design firm of Rapp & Rapp to design the Kings. They were also responsible for designing the Paramount Theatre in Manhattan, the Paramount Theatre in Brooklyn and the Uptown Theatre in Chicago. C.W Rapp passed away in 1926, and most likely had nothing to do with the designing of the Kings. Edwin “Ted” Bullock, one of George and C.W’s nephews, ran the New York office of Rapp & Rapp, located in the Paramount Theatre Building in Times Square, during the 1920s. 

The steel framework of the Kings Theatre.

Work on the Kings began in the spring of 1928. The railroad buildings were demolished first, to make way for the building’s foundation. Once the foundation was poured, the steel frame was erected, followed by the roof. This permitted construction at the top of the building and the bottom simultaneously, which allowed for faster building. The Kings cost 1,300,000 to build in 1928 which when adjusted for inflation comes to $17,767,198.83.

Anne Dornin’s Theatre Decorator’s Color Chart

The interior of the Kings was decorated by the Rambusch Company with the assistance of Anne H. Dornin, who was in charge of theater decor for Loew’s Incorporated. Dornin, an architect herself, started work with the firm of Thomas W. Lamb shortly after graduating from Columbia University, and became associated with the Loew’s Corporation after decorating the interior of some of the theaters Lamb designed for Loew’s. She came up with something she called “the Theatre Decorators’ Color Chart” which had certain criteria she used to determine what colors would be used inside each theater she decorated. The main colors she picked for the Kings were Red and Bright Gold, which she felt were perfect for large theaters in metropolitan areas.

View from the balcony shortly before opening.

According to E.A. Schiller, a VP of Loew’s Inc, the original structural plan was changed due to vaudeville and silent films declining in popularity, and motion pictures becoming more and more prominent. The entire design was revised to further the acoustical properties of the theater. Engineers at Loew’s came up with a coating that when applied to the ceilings and walls of the theater would create a texture would help to give a more uniform sound vibration across the entire auditorium. Even the elaborate ornamentation and heavy velvet drapes were designed to distribute sound throughout the auditorium.

Another change that was made to further the audibility of sound coming from the screen was the reduction of the size of the balcony. The original plans called for the Kings to have a much larger balcony, but it was discovered that a shorter and wider mezzanine would improve sound and vision. The auditorium’s footprint was widened to account for more seats being placed on the main level. 2,793 of the 3,692 seats were located on the main level with 899 in the shallow balcony. The wider auditorium also helped the sound from the speakers behind the screen to reach the entire audience.

The exterior of the theater circa March 30, 1930.

Kings wasn’t always the name of the theater. It was first called the Tilden, named for the nearby cross street. Paramount had intended to call it the Tilden Theatre, but when Loew’s took over they considered several different names including Loew’s Tilden and Loew’s Regent. Regent made it as far as being included in some of the blueprints and contractors’ agreements, but in the end the theater was named “Kings” for the county where it was located. This final name change came around six months before the theater opened, in time to include it on the marquee and vertical sign.

The opening day program from September 7, 1929.

On July 26, 1929, E. A. Schiller, vice-president of Loew’s, announced that the grand opening celebration of the Kings would take place on August 24, 1929. However there were two delays before the theater finally opened on September 7, 1929. The doors were opened to the public at 11 AM as part of a full day grand opening celebration. However, the official ceremony did not kick off until 9 PM that evening when James J. Bryne, the Brooklyn Borough President, took the stage. Bryne spoke about how grateful the residents of Brooklyn were to have a magnificent theater like the Kings opening in their borough.

Rivoli Restaurant was one of the many Flatbush establishments to take out an advertisement in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle welcoming the Loew’s Kings Theatre to the neighborhood.

A number of movie stars made special “appearances” at the opening via pre-recorded messages. Marion Davies, John Gilbert, Conrad Nagel, William Haines, and Buster Keaton each appeared on screen congratulating Loew’s on the opening of its new theater. The opening presentation was a Broadway-style stage show called Frills and Fancies and was directed by Arthur Knorr. It began with a rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner by Beal Hober, which was followed by an overture performed by the house orchestra, The Kings Grand Orchestra. Wesley Eddy, the evening’s Master of Ceremonies, took the stage next and sang If I Had You, and It All Depends on You. Jack North, a banjo-playing comedian, took the stage and sang a few songs. Christy and Nelson, a comedy acrobatic team, had the audience laughing with their routine. William “Singing Bill” Zuckerman, the Kings organist, played the Wonder Morton Organ, and a talking newsreel was shown. Next, Teddy Joyce, master of ceremonies at the Loew’s Penn Theatre in Pittsburgh, PA came out to introduce the star of the evening, Dolores Del Rio. Del Rio said a few words to mark the occasion and to introduce her film “Evangeline” which was the night’s feature presentation. Eddy retook the stage to sing the theme song for Evangeline. Nina Oginska, an internationally famous ballerina, and the Chester Hale Girls joined him on stage during the theme song. According to an advertisement in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 10,000 people attended the opening celebration.

Part Two will be available soon. Material from for this post was taken from the first three chapters of my book, Kings Theatre; The Rise, Fall and Rebirth of Brooklyn’s Wonder Theater.  If you’d like to buy a copy they are available on Amazon, and my website.

Historic photographs and blueprints are from the archival collections of the Theatre Historical Society of America

Upcoming Events

 

Auditorium, Bennett School – Millbrook, NY 2004.

I’m happy to announce that I’ll be at the 10th annual Millbrook Literary Festival in Millbrook, New York on May 19th, 2018. I’ll be signing copies of my books in the main tent from 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM. I grew up a few towns over from Millbrook, and might have snuck into the abandoned Bennett School a time or two.

Variety Theatre Cleveland, Ohio.

The next photography workshop is at one of my favorite theaters – the Variety Theatre in Cleveland, Ohio. I’m co-hosting it with Matthew Christopher of Abandoned America on June 16th. For more info visit: http://www.dismantlingthedream.com/product-page/variety-theatre-photography-workshop

View of the side of the balcony of the Colonial Theatre in Augusta, Maine.

Finally, I’ll be at the 14th annual Books in Boothbay in Boothbay, Maine on July 14. I’ll be signing copies of my books from 9:00 AM – 1:00 PM.

 

After the Final Curtain 7 Year Anniversary Giveaway

Cover for After the Final Curtain; the Fall of the American Movie Theater.

I had been photographing forgotten theaters for a few years before I launched this site, but we just passed the 7 year anniversary of my first post. So to celebrate I’m giving away two signed copies of my first book, After the Final Curtain: The Fall of the American Movie Theater. 

To enter just follow my twitter account: https://twitter.com/MattLambros and retweet any image I tweet during the next week.

If you don’t have a twitter account, just comment on this post to enter. Good Luck!

Upcoming Events

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Warner Theatre – Huntington Park, CA

Hi everyone! I’ll be making appearances across the US to promote my two books, “After the Final Curtain: The Fall of the American Movie Theater” and “Kings Theatre: The Rise, Fall and Rebirth of Brooklyn’s Wonder Theatre.”

Here are the kick off events for 2017:

I’ll be speaking and signing books at the Red Room at KGB Bar in New York City on March 21, 2017 at 7PM. Tickets can be purchased at: http://www.atlasobscura.com/events/after-the-final-curtain

Studebaker_Theatre_01
View of the Studebaker Theatre from the stage.

On April 22 and 23 I’ll have a table at the New Bedford Bookfest in New Bedford, MA. There will be a lecture with a Q&A session on Saturday, April 22 from 1:30PM to 3PM at the fest. Tickets are $10, or $50 with a signed copy of “After the Final Curtain: The Fall of the American Movie Theater.”

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Everette Square Theatre – Boston, MA

Have you ever wanted to tour an abandoned theater with me? Well, you’re in luck! On May 4 at 6PM I’ll be speaking at the Hyde Park branch of the Boston Public Library, then taking everyone who attends on a tour of the Everett Square Theatre! Visit Art Week Boston for more information.

Copies of both books will be available at all events.

There will be more events throughout 2017 so if there’s somewhere you’d like me to speak, let me know in the comments below!

Kings Theatre Book Update

Book Cover 5

What was the original name of the Kings Theatre in Brooklyn? Is there a reason it was painted in red and gold? What famous architect almost designed the Kings? These questions and more are answered in my new book, “Kings Theatre: The Rise, Fall and Rebirth of Brooklyn’s Wonder Theatre“, which is available now!

It was published by the Theatre Historical Society of America, and contains never before seen historic and modern photographs of the Kings, as well as a complete history of the theater. The book can be ordered on Amazon and signed copies are available via my site.

Book Launch

Somerville Theatre Somerville, MA
Somerville Theatre Somerville, MA

Hi Everyone! My first book, After the Final Curtain: The Fall of the American Movie Theater, launched this week. It’s available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or at your local bookstore. Signed copies are available at my site: http://www.afterthefinalcurtainprints.com/product/after-the-final-curtain-the-fall-of-the-american-movie-theater

Thank you to everyone who came to the lecture/launch party for the book at the Somerville Theatre in Somerville, MA! There are plans for similar events in New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, and even London. Details for those will be released soon. If you’d like me to come speak at your local theater or bookstore let me know!

The blog will return to regular updates on Monday November 21 with the Ritz Theatre in Carteret, NJ. Here’s a sneak peek at some theaters I recently photographed to tide you over until then.

Carolina Theatre Charlotte, NC
Carolina Theatre Charlotte, NC

Gem Theatre Cairo, IL
Gem Theatre Cairo, IL

Pantheon Theatre Vincennes, Indiana
Pantheon Theatre Vincennes, Indiana

Boston Book Launch and Lecture

After the Final Curtain: The Fall of the American Movie Theater is being released on November 15, 2016.
After the Final Curtain: The Fall of the American Movie Theater is being released on November 15, 2016.

Hi Everyone – I’ll be speaking about my upcoming book, After the Final Curtain: The Fall of the American Movie Theater, at the Somerville Theatre in Somerville, Massachusetts on November 13 at 6:30 PM.

If you want to get a copy of my book a few days before the official release this is your chance. Tickets are only $5 and can be purchased here. Hope to see you there!

You can preview the book at the following link: After the Final Curtain. Pre orders are available at the following locations: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Indiebound.