Loew’s Kings Theatre – Part 4

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. You can find the first three parts at the following links: 

https://afterthefinalcurtain.net/2018/09/13/loews-kings-theatre-part-one/

https://afterthefinalcurtain.net/2019/01/22/loews-kings-theatre-part-2-the-early-years/

https://afterthefinalcurtain.net/2019/03/08/loews-kings-theatre-part-3-the-queen-of-the-kings/

View from the side of the balcony.

Rumors circulated Loews was interested in selling the Kings in November 1976. Marty Markowitz, then president of the Flatbush Tenants Council, confirmed that the building was up for sale. According to Markowitz, “I know that the building is up for sale. I don’t know if it has been sold yet, but I know that the Loews Corporation would like to sell it.” Markowitz said, “We would like to bring live entertainment to the theater – Broadway-type shows and concerts so that there could be a sort of renaissance on Flatbush Avenue. We mentioned it to the Loews people, but they aren’t interested.” Chet Arnow, the vice president in charge of advertising and publicity for Loews, denied that the Kings was up for sale, but added, “Sure the Kings is up for sale. Every one of our theaters is always up for sale if the price is right. If we don’t get the right price, we’ll continue operating the Kings as usual.” Brunner also denied the rumors and stated that people have been talking about the Kings closing for 20 years. Despite their denials, less than six months later, the marquee read, “Closed: Will Reopen Soon.”

 

Soon after the theater closed, two churches asked about buying the theater and converting it into a place of worship. There was precedent for this; Loew’s 175th, one of the Kings’ sister theaters, had been purchased by the United Christian Evangelistic Association in 1969 and converted into a church. Another former Loew’s Wonder Theater, the Valencia, closed around the same time as the Kings and was turned into a church two years later when Loew’s donated the building to the Tabernacle of Prayer for All People.

During the Loew’s Valencia theater’s early years, clouds were projected across the ceiling, giving the illusion of sitting under the stars at night.

Less than a month after closing, the Kings Theater was sold to the Kings Royalty Production Corporation (KRPC) for $718,385, or $2,782,520 when adjusted for inflation. The KRPC was formed for the specific purpose of purchasing and running the theater. Robert Smerling and David Fellman, the owners of KRPC, also owned the American Theatre Management Corporation (ATMC), which had several theaters in the tri-state area. “Loew’s” was removed from the marquee, and it reopened in early June 1977 as simply the Kings Theatre. The first film shown was Day of the Animals, a horror movie starring Leslie Nielsen. KRPC contracted with major movie companies, including Warner Brothers and Paramount, to turn the Kings into a first-run movie theater.

On July 13, 1977, lightning struck a substation near Buchanan, NY and began a chain of events that caused the New York metropolitan area to lose power for around 25 hours. Looting began soon after the power went out. It was especially bad in the Bronx, Harlem, Queens, and Central Brooklyn. Eighty stores in Flatbush were hit, with 49 of them on Flatbush Avenue. The already low attendance and the destruction and looting during the blackout caused many people to stay away from the hardest hit neighborhoods.

One of the first films shown at the newly reopened theater was the follow up to the 1973 hit, The Exorcist. KRPC was banking on Exorcist II: The Heretic being as big a hit as the first one. Unfortunately, this film was considered by many to be one of the worst films ever made, and it languished at the box office. The Kings showed the “Exorcist II: The Heretic” for almost a month before switching to another film. By that point, the damage was done, and the KRPC could not meet expenses to keep the theater open. On Monday, August 29, 1977, the Kings closed again, just six weeks after it had reopened. The last film shown was “Bruce Lee: The Man, The Myth.”

Laurence Lehr, a representative employed by both KRPC and ATMC, claimed that the company closed the theater because it was cheaper to let the bank have it. “When you get monthly electric bills over $7,800 …, how do you expect to do business? You can’t do business in this city. The costs of labor, security, and everything else are ridiculous.” They tried to keep the costs down by rarely using the large chandeliers in the lobby and only turning the marquee on around 9 PM each evening. According to Lehr, the company was aware of the costs of running a theater when they bought it, but was hoping they could turn it around.

 

Casino Theatre – Bronx, NY

This was originally posted on After the Final Curtain’s Patreon in January 2022. For expanded early posts, as well as video walkthroughs and other exclusive content, you can become a patron at: https://www.patreon.com/afterthefinalcurtain

The auditorium of the former Casino Theatre in the Bronx.

View of the auditorium from the side of the balcony.

The Casino Theatre originally opened as the Willis Theatre in late December 1923. It’s near 138th Street in the Mott Haven neighborhood of the Bronx, NY. The 2,166 seat theater was designed by architect Eugene De Rosa, who is known for many other New York Metropolitan Theatres such as The Apollo Theatre in Harlem, Studio 54 in Midtown Manhattan, and the St. George Theatre in Staten Island. 

It was not a successful theater and closed and reopened many times throughout the 1920s, often with a change of format. It went from vaudeville to burlesque to motion pictures and even had a brief stint as a Broadway-style theater when a manager’s tryout for “A Woman of Destiny” was held at the theater in 1936.

Center view of the Auditorium, Casino Theatre - Bronx, NY

The orchestra level was converted into a grocery store, and the stage area is used for storage.

The Willis was renovated and renamed the Casino in 1939 to coincide with the World’s Fair, which was being held at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in Queens, NY. It closed as a movie house for the last time in the 1960s. After a few years, a supermarket replaced the theater. However, it wasn’t demolished, at least not completely. Instead, the lobby and orchestra level of the auditorium were gutted and converted into the supermarket. The balcony is all that remains of the Casino today.

Storage lockers for films. Early film was made of nitrate, and it is very combustible, so it needed to be stored in lockers like the one pictured here.

Loew’s Boulevard Theatre – Bronx, NY

This was originally posted on After the Final Curtain’s Patreon in January 2022. For expanded early posts, as well as video walkthroughs and other exclusive content, you can become a patron at: https://www.patreon.com/afterthefinalcurtain

Balcony, Loew's Boulevard Theatre - Bronx, NY

View of the remains of the balcony.

On November 1, 1913, the Loew’s Boulevard Theatre opened in the Bronx, NY. Marcus Loew, founder of Loew’s Incorporated, was one of the 2,800 people who attended the opening night celebrations. Loew announced ‌the theater would feature “small time” vaudeville and motion pictures. Thomas W. Lamb, famed theater architect, redesigned the interior of the Boulevard in 1917. During the remodel, a three-manual Möller organ was installed to accompany the films and live performances. Loew’s Inc. remodeled it again in 1932, but this time to better equip it for talking motion pictures. 

Organ Chamber, Boulevard Theatre - Bronx, NY

Most of the organ chambers were destroyed when the balcony was separated from the orchestra level.

The Boulevard was one of 24 nearby theaters to start a program of one night vaudeville in June 1949. Vaudeville continued into late 1950, but by then the Boulevard was one of only ten other theaters in the program. They discontinued it soon after. Loew’s closed the Boulevard in the late 1960s, and it soon reopened as an independent theater dropping the “Loew’s” from its name. It continued showing motion pictures, but hosted live events from time to time, including a Circus in September 1972. The Boulevard changed formats and became a Spanish language theater in the late 1970s before closing for good in the mid-1980s. 

Five Brothers Furniture took over the building soon after it closed and gutted the lower level, turning it into their showroom. Five Brothers remained in the building until the late 2000s, when it was replaced by Planet Fitness, a fitness club franchise. Planet Fitness cleaned up the facade of the building, but did not touch the balcony, which is the only part of the original theater that remains to this day.

 

You can hear the sounds of workout machines and fitness classes while you’re in the balcony.

Oriental Theatre – Boston, MA

The ornamental plaster was removed after the theater closed.

Originally planned to be built in Waltham, The Oriental Theatre opened on October 24, 1930 in the Mattapan neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts. It was designed in the atmospheric style, where the ceiling resembled the night sky surrounded by a town, by the Boston based architectural firm Krokyn, Browne, and Rosenstein. They recreated notable Chinese structures, such as the Wanshou Temple and the Street Gate of Tsinanfu, in the auditorium. The 2,200 seat theater did not have a balcony, but had stadium seating with a raised section at the rear of the auditorium.

It was originally part of Jacob Lourie and Sam Pinanki’s NETOCO theater circuit, then Paramount, followed by M & P, and finally American Theatres Corporation (ATC.) The Oriental gained a reputation for being run down, and was eventually foreclosed on, which forced the theater to close. It was sold at a foreclosure auction on Friday, September 21, 1971. The last film advertised as being shown was “McCabe & Mrs. Miller” starring Warren Beatty and Julie Christie.

View from the rear of the auditorium.

In the mid-1970s, the building became home to an electrical supply warehouse. Fred McLennan, a local theater operator, purchased much of the ornamental plasterwork from the theater and installed it at the Orpheum Theatre in Canton, MA, which he renamed to the New Oriental Theatre. Only a few small pieces of plaster and the blue ceiling remained at the Oriental. A furniture store and warehouse replaced the electrical supply warehouse in 2018.

Summer and Fall Workshops 2022

Strand Theatre Auditorium

Here are the dates and locations for the next four After the Final Curtain photo workshops. I’m very excited about the Strand Theatre, which is an active theater, so it’ll be nice and cool inside.

A long exposure of the Everett Square Theatre auditorium. 

The projection booth at the Everett Square Theatre.

Everett Square Theatre

Location: Boston, MA

Date/Time:

July 16, 2022

The Theatre: The Everett Square Theatre opened in 1915 in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts. It was designed by Boston architect Harry M. Ramsay for the Littlefield Trust, the original owner of the theater. For more information, visit: https://afterthefinalcurtain.net/2014/08/05/everett-square-theatre/

Cost: $50.00

Tickets: http://www.mlambrosphotography.com/workshops/everett-square-theatre-workshop

The Everett was an early movie house and is perfect if you’ve never been on a workshop before. I keep the groups small here, and we tend to experiment with lighting as seen in the first photo of the theater posted above.

Strand Theatre

Location: Boston, MA

Date/Time:

August 21, 2022

The Theatre: The Strand Theatre opened on November 11, 1918, in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts. It was designed by Boston architectural firm Funk and Wilcox, who also designed the nearby Franklin Park Theatre. It is currently used for live events.

Cost: $70.00

Tickets: http://www.mlambrosphotography.com/workshops/strand-theatre-workshop-boston-ma

The Strand is an active theater with decay. This workshop was originally planned for January 2022, but was delayed because of Vincent van Gogh (seriously.)  The afternoon session is already almost sold out.

Auditorium of the “Grant” Theatre.

Grant Theatre

Location: South of Boston, MA

Date/Time:

September 17, 2022

The Theatre: The Grant opened in the early 1900s as a vaudeville theater, and was eventually divided into 2 separate theaters. It’s been closed for several years with no plans to reopen it.

Cost: $75.00

Tickets: https://www.mlambrosphotography.com/workshops/granttheatre2022

***At the request of the owner the real name and location of this theater will be disclosed only to workshop attendees***

Franklin Park Theatre

Location: Boston, MA

Date/Time:

October 15, 2022

The Theatre: The Franklin Park Theatre opened on December 8, 1914 in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts. It was designed by Boston architectural firm Funk and Wilcox, who also designed the nearby Strand Theatre. It was turned into a church in 1963.

https://afterthefinalcurtain.net/2014/10/08/franklin-park-theatre/

Cost: $110

Tickets: http://www.mlambrosphotography.com/workshops/franklinparktheatreworkshop

The Franklin Park is one of my favorite workshop locations. Where else can you get a theater and a church all in one? (That’s a rhetorical question. Please don’t answer.)

 

And that’s it for 2022 workshops. Maybe. I’m always working on new locations and I’ve got a new one that may happen in late fall. Followers of my Patreon will know about it before anyone else.  If there are some locations I’ve done in the past that you’d like another workshop  at – let me know.

Strand Theatre – Boston, MA

I originally posted this post on After the Final Curtain’s Patreon in October 2021. For expanded early posts, as well as video walkthroughs and other exclusive content, you can become a patron at: https://www.patreon.com/afterthefinalcurtain

View of the auditorium from the balcony.

The Strand Theatre in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts, originally opened on November 11, 1918, the same day that the news of the Armistice, ending World War I, reached Boston. The Boston-based architectural firm of Funk & Wilcox, the same firm that designed the nearby Franklin Park Theatre and the Cabot Theatre in Beverly, MA, designed it. It was one of the first theaters in Massachusetts designed with motion pictures in mind. The Strand also had a $75,000 Hope-Jones Theatre Organ, one of the first of its kind in Massachusetts.

A portion of the lobby was restored to show what the theater could look like after a full restoration.

Early advertisements for the Strand called it “New England’s Most Beautiful Theatre” and “Dorchester’s New Million Dollar Photoplay Palace.” The 2,200 seat Strand opened with a silent film double feature of “Queen of the Sea” starring Annette Kellerman and“Out of a Clear Sky” starring Marguerite Clark. There was also a performance by “Songstress DeLuxe” Emile Earle. Hundreds of people showed up to the Strand’s opening celebration in part to celebrate the theater but also the signing of the armistice. Many celebrities performed at the Strand over the years, including Fred Allen, Fanny Brice, Milton Berle, Jack Benny, Jerry Lewis, Duke Ellington, and Alfred Hitchcock.

Like many single-screen theaters of its day, the Strand’s audience declined, and the theater closed in 1969. In 1979, the City of Boston took ownership of the theater, and the Strand reopened. It was managed by the M. Harriet McCormack Center for the Arts (MHMCA), who signed a 25-year lease for $1 a year. During this time, some big names performed at the theater – Joe Perry, B.B. King, Tracy Chapman, Public Enemy, Phish, and LL Cool J, just to name a few. MHMCA operated the theater until 2003, when the City declined to renew their lease because of allegations of mismanagement.

The right organ chamber and box seats were given a sample restoration as well.

The City of Boston is currently searching for a new operator of the Strand.

 

 

Orpheum Theatre – St. Louis, Missouri

View of the auditorium from the mezzanine.

The Orpheum Theatre in St. Louis, Missouri opened on September 3, 1917. The Southern Real Estate and Financial Company hired G. Albert Lansberg to design the building. Lansberg designed many theaters for the San Francisco-based Orpheum Theatre Circuit. The 2,300-seat Beaux arts theater cost $500,000 ($9.6 million with inflation) to build. Unlike many other theaters, the Orpheum did not have a formal opening with special guests and speeches. Opening day was a straight vaudeville ticket with two strongmen, a contortionist, two comedians, and a singer.

The lobby of the Orpheum.

Many famous vaudeville acts performed at the Orpheum over the years, including Sophie Tucker, Eddie Foy, Fannie Ward, and Lee Morse. Harry Houdini, the famous illusionist and escape artist, performed at the Orpheum for a week on three separate occasions: the first began on February 13, 1922; the second on January 14, 1923; and the last on December 22, 1923. When vaudeville declined in the late 1920s, the theater switched formats and became a playhouse. It opened on Christmas Day 1929 with a production of David Belasco’s The Bachelor Father.
Warner Bros took the Orpheum over in 1934 and changed formats again, this time to motion pictures. A new screen, projectors, and a W.W. Kimball 2 manual organ were installed in the theater. It reopened on September 15, 1934, with a showing of “British Agent” starring Kay Francis and Leslie Howard. Warner Bros operated the theater until 1941, when the theater closed. It reopened two years later, as the Loew’s Orpheum Theatre on January 28, 1943, with a war bond event and a screening of “The War Against Mrs. Hadley” starring Edward Arnold and Fay Bainter.
On February 28, 1960, Loew’s Theatres Inc. announced that they wanted to move their operations to the nearby American Theater (a playhouse) since they could not easily install a 70mm screen at the Orpheum because of its balconies. They could convert the American Theatre at a much lower cost. Both theaters were owned by Southern Real Estate and Financial Company, which were in favor of the switch. However, because of the ruling of the landmark antitrust case, United States v. Paramount Pictures, Inc., which said that movie studios could no longer own the theaters in which their films played; Loew’s needed the permission of the Department of Justice to sign a new lease; the Department of Justice signed in March 1960. After a $300,000 renovation, the Orpheum reopened as the American Theatre on October 10, 1960, with a performance of The Music Man.
Local entrepreneurs Steve and Michael Roberts purchased the theater for $1.5 million in 2003. It underwent a two-year renovation and upgrade before reopening on April 10, 2005, as the Roberts Orpheum Theater. The first musical act to perform at the reopened theater was the Backstreet Boys. In 2012, Steve and Michael Roberts went bankrupt and were forced to close the theater. Jubilee World Inc., a music-oriented Christian ministry, bought the theater in late 2016, intending to reopen it as a performing arts center. However, no reopening date has been announced.

View of the auditorium from the box seats.

The auditorium chandelier and procenium arch.

View of the auditorium from the upper balcony.

The Library Opera House – Marathon, NY (Lucky Number 200!)

I knew I wanted to do something a little different for the 200th theater I photographed. I was speaking with a friend who went to school in upstate (real upstate, not just slightly north of NYC) and he asked “have you been to the one above the library in Marathon?” I hadn’t heard of it and was immediately intrigued. I found a few recent photos online and knew this would be perfect. Plus, it’s now the oldest theater I’ve photographed in the United States. As with most of my posts – it was originally posted on Patreon in August 2021.  For expanded early posts, as well as video walkthroughs and other exclusive content you can become a patron at: https://www.patreon.com/afterthefinalcurtain

View of the auditorium from the balcony.

In January 1891, Mersena Peck, a native of Marathon, New York died. She left $20,000 ($584,217 when adjusted for inflation) in trust for the creation of a public library in Marathon and named three town residents as trustees. They began working to carry out her wishes and were well underway by 1893. However, before construction could start, a group of 125 citizens petitioned that the building include a space for public entertainment. Architect Miles F. Howe adjusted the blueprints to add a 600 seat opera house on the second floor of the building.

The Marathon Library and Opera House opened on January 1, 1896. It began as a live performance space, hosting traveling performers before transitioning over to films in the early 1930s. The Library Opera House was renamed the Park Theatre and lasted as a movie theater until 1953. The auditorium is currently only used a few times a year to host a used book fair.

The exterior of the Marathon Library/Opera House.

In early 2020, the Marathon Public Library announced that the building needs close to $1 million in renovations. They’ve received $50,000 through their capital campaign but far from enough to be able to make the renovations needed to reopen the opera house.

The orchestra level of the auditorium is used as a book fair.

The Restoration of the Colonial Theatre in Laconia, NH

This post was originally posted on After the Final Curtain’s Patreon in September 2021.  For expanded early posts, as well as video walkthroughs and other exclusive content you can become a patron at: https://www.patreon.com/afterthefinalcurtain

View from the balcony before restoration.

Colonial Theatre Laconia, NH

View from the balcony after restoration.

I’ve been photographing theaters for long enough that many have been completely restored and reopened since I first visited them. The Colonial Theatre in Laconia, NH, is one of those I have documented before, during, and after restoration.

The lobby when I first visited the theater in early 2019.

Here’s the same shot that was taken in May 2021. I was told that these are close to the original colors of the theater.

Work began in March 2016, when the partitions divided the auditorium into four screens were removed. Fortunately, those who did this work left much of the original plasterwork intact behind the new walls. Belknap EDC brought in Evergreene Architectural Arts to restore the plasterwork and recreate some of the details that had been destroyed or deteriorated over the years. For example, the original fire curtain remains intact but needs some work before it can be used.

Orchestra Level (with my favorite fire curtain of all time) from early 2019.

A similar shot of the auditorium from May 2021.

The total restoration cost was $14.4 million, and the finished theater will seat 750 people, with 450 in the orchestra and 300 on the balcony. Spectacle Management of Lexington, Massachusetts, has been contracted to manage the theater. The official grand opening and ribbon cutting took place on August 27, 2021. In addition to bookings from Spectacle, the Colonial will be open to weddings, dance groups, meetings, and community productions.

Ticket Booth, Colonial Theatre Laconia, NH

The ticket booth in early 2019.

Ticket booth post-restoration.

The Colonial Theatre Building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2020. Tickets to upcoming shows can be purchased at https://coloniallaconia.com/

 

Drake Theatre – Oil City, PA

This post was originally posted on After the Final Curtain’s Patreon in May 2021.  For early posts, as well as video walkthroughs and other exclusive content you can become a patron at: https://www.patreon.com/afterthefinalcurtain

A look at Oil City PA's Drake Theatre from the Balcony

View of the Auditorium from the balcony.

The Drake Theatre in Oil City, Pennsylvania opened on August 27, 1928, as the Colonel Drake Theatre. The date was chosen because it was the sixty-ninth anniversary of the completion of the first oil well drilled by Col. Edwin L. Drake, the first man to drill oil in the United States, and the theater’s namesake. The Vemark Corporation formed the Drake Theatre Realty Company (DTRC) to finance the construction, and $500,000 in bonds were sold, which was around half of the building’s appraised value. On January 7, 1928, DTRC invited the public to view the laying of the Drake’s cornerstone.

The ceiling of the Drake Theatre in Oil City, PA

Much of the interior décor items, including the glass from the light in the center of the ceiling, were donated to local museums.

The 2,000-seat theater and 50,000 sq. ft office building was designed by architect William H. Lee, who is known for designing many theaters in eastern Pennsylvania. It was designed in the Art Deco style, and there are two murals depicting the petroleum industry on the auditorium walls. Music was important at the Drake; the Colonial Drake Symphony Orchestra, led by William Lantz, alternated performances with the Wurlitzer Co. Opus 1870 organ. Clark Piers, an organist from Scranton, PA, was hired as the theater’s organist.

The view of the Drake Theatre auditorium from the stage.

The view from the stage reveals how much water damage there is in the auditorium.

Many businesses took out ads in the Oil City Derrick, the local newspaper, to congratulate the theater on its grand opening. The theater’s motto “Always a Good Show” appeared in early advertisements. The opening day celebration began with a street parade headed by a marching band. Many of the theater’s new ushers marched in the parade wearing their green and gold uniforms. Dr. Thomas Farmer, an Oil City businessman, gave the opening address, followed by George H. Torrey of the Oil City Historical Society, who told the history of the oil industry in the United States.

The proscenium arch of the Drake Theatre in Oil City, PA was damaged due to a leak in the roof.

A closer look at the water-damaged proscenium arch.

In the 1950s, one of the lobby staircases was removed so that a concessions stand could be installed. Due to competition from a local multiplex, the Drake closed in July 1986 after a showing of the film “Club Paradise” starring Robin Williams and Peter O’Toole. The Oil City Playhouse briefly reopened the theater in the mid-1990s as a performing arts center, but it closed again after a year. The building was put up for judicial tax sale in 1995 due to $221,000 in back taxes. It was purchased for $70,500 by Bruce Taylor, who owned Penn Aire Aviation, Inc. Taylor outbid a group that intended on restoring and reopening the Drake.

A mural on the auditorium wall of the Drake Theatre in Oil City, PA

One of the two murals depicting the petroleum industry on the auditorium walls.

Penn Aire sold the building to Webco, a local manufacturing company, in early 2018. Webco intends to demolish the auditorium and build a facility to house manufacturing equipment. However, the lobby, façade, and office building will remain. Ellen Gierlach, president of Penn Aire, removed two murals, exit signs, light fixtures, and more before the sale. Gierlach has donated many of them to museums and historical societies, including the Drake Well Museum and the Theatre Historical Society of America.

The lobby of the Drake Theatre in Oil City, PA.

The concession stand in the lobby was added in the 1950s and replaced one of the staircases to the balcony.

The auditorium of the Drake Theatre in Oil City from the orchestra level.