Loew’s Kings Theatre Part 3 – The Queen of the Kings

 

The exterior of the Loew’s Kings in the 1960s.

Several people served as managers of the Kings since it opened in 1929. The first was Edward Douglas who managed the theater until 1943. Clyde Fuller, who managed from 1943 to 1957, followed Douglas before moving to the Loew’s State in Manhattan. Daniel Cohen, who worked at the Kings from 1957 to October 1961 and left to take a job in the publicity department of the Loew’s corporate office, replaced Fuller. Joe Beck was transferred from the Loew’s Gates Theatre to replace Cohen. During his tenure as manager, Beck arranged for a local ice cream parlor to provide coffee and doughnuts to patrons waiting in line to see Breakfast at Tiffany’s on opening day. Beck managed the Kings for a little over a year before being transferred to the Loew’s Tower East in Manhattan’s Upper East Side in March 1962.

Dorothy Solomon Panzica sitting on the organ console at the Kings Theatre.

However, none of these managers were quite as unique as Dorothy (Solomon) Panzica. Born near Boston and raised in Brooklyn, Panzica began her theater career as an usherette at the Loew’s 46th Street Theatre in Brooklyn. By 1942, she had been promoted to manager. She had managed six other Loew’s theaters (the Kameo, 46th Street, Brevoort, Palace, Commodore, and Oriental) before being transferred to the Kings in March of 1962. When she found out she was going to the Kings, Panzica reached out to Nick’s Moving Company, one of the tenants at the Loew’s Oriental. She wanted to make the move a larger than life event and she convinced Nick to provide a moving van for an impromptu parade from the Oriental to the Kings. Panzica had a banner made that read “The Fun is moving to the Loew’s Kings” and had it hung from the moving van. She filled the van with empty trunks that were decorated to look like movie tickets and concession treats, and began the four-mile drive from the Oriental to the Kings. Local school bands marched at both theaters, each playing a synchronized salute to American composer George M. Cohan.



Panzica had a rather unorthodox way of promoting movies, and that lead to her becoming known as the “Lady Showman of Flatbush Avenue.” For example, if she didn’t like the film that was playing she’d put, “One of the WORST movies we’ve shown” on the marquee, and that caused people to show up to see just how bad the film could be. Another time, people were not coming to see a movie that was playing so she instructed the ticket taker to start selling tickets and making change very slowly. Before long, a line started to form and more people would join it thinking that the movie was one worth waiting for. Panzica also rented out the theater for other functions, such as school graduations and group meetings. She brought in so much extra money through the rentals that she often won contests held by Loew’s.

Panzica heard that Governor Nelson Rockefeller was going to make an appearance at the opening of the lower level of the Verrazano Bridge on June 28, 1969 so she sent four ushers to the bridge with signs promoting Mackenna’s Gold, which was scheduled to open at the Kings the following month.

Loew’s opened a modern twin theater in the Georgetown neighborhood of Brooklyn in 1968. The Georgetown Twin, as it was called, had one thing the Kings lacked – a large parking lot. Patrons flocked to the new theater, and eventually the Kings started showing films 20 minutes after they started at the Georgetown so they could get the overflow from the sold out showings.

Blueprints for the proposed division of the Kings Theatre auditorium by the John J. McNamara Architectural firm. McNamara was an associate of famed theater architect Thomas W. Lamb.

In early 1969, Loew’s hired John J. McNamara, an associate of well-known theater architect Thomas W. Lamb, to convert the Kings from a single screen theater to a triplex. The plans called for the orchestra level to be divided into two screens with a third screen in the balcony. The balcony floor would have extended to the proscenium, and much of the ornamental plaster, including the columns would have been removed. Since the balcony of the theater is very short, the cost of extending it and dividing the orchestra would have been excessive. Dorothy Panzica paid a visit to Loew’s Corporate Headquarters in Midtown Manhattan as soon as she heard about these plans and convinced them to preserve the theater as a single screen.

The Kings 40th anniversary cake was donated by Ebinger’s, a Brooklyn bakery known for the “Brooklyn Blackout” Cake

1969 was also the 40th anniversary year of the Kings, and Dorothy Panzica made sure there was a huge celebration. Together with the Flatbush Merchants Association, the theater celebrated the occasion with a month of contests and prizes culminating in a gala event at the theater on October 3, 1969. The Purple Wood, a band that has since faded into obscurity, entertained crowds in front of the theater. Eventually the crowds grew so large that police had to cordon them off from the arriving guests. Ebinger’s, a local Brooklyn bakery, baked a special cake that read “Congratulations Loew’s Kings 40th Anniversary – Donated by Ebinger’s” just for the occasion. Among the people attending the event were: Brooklyn Borough President Abe Stark, Jack Rosenberg (president of the Flatbush Merchants Association), Bernard Diamond (VP of Loews Theatres), Harold Graff (Loews Division Manager), and Daniel Cohen (Loews Eastern General Manager and former manager of the Kings).

Panzica’s promotion for The Way We Were was inspired by an article in Flatbush Life titled “Filthy Flatbush Avenue.”

Flatbush experienced a shift in demographics in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Many of the Italian, Irish, and Jewish families that once made up the neighborhood moved to the suburbs, and businesses began to follow. In early November 1973, Panzica picked up the theater’s copy of Flatbush Life and saw the front-page article titled “Filthy Flatbush Avenue.” She was outraged and immediately set up a meeting with a number of local merchants, who, like Panzica, were angry at the article because it would drive customers away. The group brainstormed a number of ideas before deciding that they should organize a neighborhood cleanup. Panzica, ever the show-woman, used the cleanup to promote an upcoming film – The Way We Were starring Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford. She had signs made that said, “Flatbush is beautiful. We are polishing up ‘The Way We Are’ for ‘The Way We Were.’ See Streisand and Redford Together at the Loew’s Kings starting Wed Nov. 14th.” Ushers and volunteers carried those signs as they swept and picked up trash along Flatbush Avenue. Panzica was awarded first prize in the Columbia Pictures The Way We Were showmanship contest for her efforts in promoting the film.

Employees of the Kings Theatre cleaning up Flatbush Avenue.


In January 1974, the “Mighty Morton” organ was played for the last time at the Kings by Lee Erwin for an audience of around 200. The 3,000-pipe organ had been largely unused, only being played during graduation ceremonies and special events. The Loews Corporation donated the organ to New York University, as the Tisch Brothers, who owned a controlling interest in Loews, were alumni of the school. Panzica said, “I’ll miss the beautiful old thing. I’m sad, but in a happy sort of way.”

Panzica shutting the power to the marquee and upright sign on her last day at the Kings Theatre in 1975.

Panzica announced her retirement in September 1975. She was so beloved that the week of her retirement the Loew Down, Loew’s weekly newsletter, was entirely devoted to her career. Martin Brunner, who previously managed the Loew’s Gates in Brooklyn, replaced Panzica as manager. Brunner was used to programming for a different demographic and began bringing in a lot of kung fu and “B” films to show at the Kings. According to Paul Lepelletier, Brunner did not promote the films like Panzica and also failed to bring in outside groups to rent out the theater. Attendance began to decline and, at the same time, the cost of keeping the theater open was going up. Rumors began to circulate that Loews was going to sell the Kings.

Dorothy Solomon Panzica looking at photographs of the restored Kings Theatre in her nursing home shortly before the theater reopened.

 

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, and the Goodman family.

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Roxie Theatre – Los Angeles, CA

The theater was built for Gus A. Metzger and Harry Srere, who also owned the Fairfax Theatre.

The Roxie Theatre in Los Angeles, California opened on November 25, 1931. It was the last theater in Los Angeles’s Broadway Theater District to open, and was built on the site of Quinn’s Superba Theatre, which was demolished to make way for the new theater. The Roxie originally had 1,637 seats, and was designed primarily for motion pictures, but had a small stage house so it could hold live performances.

The exterior of the theater has showed up in many movies over the years including 2011’s “The Muppets.”

It was designed by John M. Cooper — known for the NuWilshire Theatre in Santa Monica — in the Art Deco style, and has the distinction of being the only Art Deco theater in the theater district. Construction began in June 1931 at a cost of around $100,000 (or $1,663,794 when adjusted for inflation.)

View of the auditorium from the stage.

The Roxie’s history is marred by a number of tragic events, beginning with the death of the Harry Metzger, the general manager, on August 3, 1943. A customer discovered Metzger had died of a heart attack in the ticket booth when they went to purchase a ticket. On Christmas Eve 1954, a woman killed herself in her seat during a double feature showing of “Crossed Swords” and “Track of the Cat.” The Roxie was an all-night theater at the time, so her body wasn’t discovered until the lights went on at 3:30AM. The only clues to her identity were a Canadian dollar bill and a telephone number written on a cafe receipt in her pockets. She’s never been identified. Richard Studeny, an usher, tied up the manager and robbed the theater in June of 1958. He turned himself in to the police in Florida the following December.

In 1989, the Roxie closed after a stint showing Spanish-language films operated by Metropolitan Theatres. The ticket booth was removed and the lobby was converted into retail space in 1995. A number of reuse plans for the building have been been proposed over the years, often including the nearby Cameo and Arcade Theaters. One plan proposed turning the Roxie into a restaurant and restoring the Arcade as a live performance venue, but nothing has come to pass. The Roxie’s auditorium has been used as a filming location in a number of movies over the years including “Foxcatcher,” starring Steve Carell and Channing Tatum.

View of the auditorium from the orchestra level.

Photo Workshops 2019

Orpheum Theatre – New Bedford, MA

Here are the first three locations for the 2019 photo workshop season:

First up is a return to the Orpheum Theatre in New Bedford, MA on February 23, 2019. The Orpheum was the first theater profiled on After the Final Curtain, and the past workshops have been great. Attendees will be able to photograph the auditorium, ballroom and shooting range. You can find out more information and sign up here.

Everett Square Theatre – Boston, MA.

Next is the Everett Square Theatre in Boston, MA on March 30, 2019. The Everett is a smaller theater, and a great place for someone who is just starting to photograph abandoned spaces. Due to the theaters size attendance is limited to 7 people per session. For more information and to sign up visit: http://www.mlambrosphotography.com/workshops/everett-square-theatre-workshop

Auditorium, Colonial Theatre Augusta, Maine

Finally, the Colonial Theatre in Augusta, Maine on April 27, 2019. It opened in 1913, and closed in the 1960s. There’s a group looking to restore the theater, and they’ve done quite a bit of work (including fixing a giant hole in the auditorium floor.) This will be the first workshop at the Colonial, and I’m excited for all of you to see it in person. For more information visit: http://www.mlambrosphotography.com/workshops/colonial-theatre

I’m still waiting on confirmation for three more new workshop locations for early 2019. I don’t want to say much about them until I get the go ahead, but two of them are active theaters. Hopefully, I’ll be able to announce them very soon.

American Shakespeare Theater – Stratford, CT

This theater is a bit different from every other one I’ve posted on AFtC as it was never a movie theater. However,  I believe that it is still historically significant due to the people who performed in it. I planned on posting a completely different theater today, but since this one was destroyed last weekend I felt it needed to be bumped up.
View of the auditorium from the balcony.

The American Shakespeare Theatre opened on July 12, 1955 in Stratford, CT. Construction of the building began in 1954, and cost $1 million or $9.3 million when adjusted for inflation. It was commissioned by the American Shakespeare Festival Theatre and Academy (ASFTA), which was formed by Lawrence Langner, a co-founder of The Theatre Guild.  Langner formed the ASFTA to create American interpretations of William Shakespeare’s plays in Connecticut.

On the bat’s back I do fly
After summer merrily.
Merrily, merrily, shall I live now
Under the blossom that hangs on the bough. (Ariel, Act 5 Scene 1)

“Julius Caesar” was the opening production and the theater company included Raymond Massey, Christopher Plummer, Roddy McDowall, Jack Palance, and Jerry Stiller. Over the years many famous actors were involved in productions at the theater including: Katharine Hepburn, Fred Gwynne, Margaret Hamilton, James Earl Jones, Lillian Gish, Christopher Walken and Ed Asner. In 1966, T.S. Eliot’s “Murder in the Cathedral,” becomes the first non-Shakespeare play performed at the theater.

The theater’s ticket booth inside the lobby.

The final full season was in 1982, with performances of “King Henry IV,” “Twelfth Night,” and “Hamlet.”  In 1983, the theater was bought by the state of Connecticut for $1 million due to the threat of foreclosure. The American Shakespeare Theatre Corp. was given a 20 year, $1 a year lease but financial issues continued and the summer productions were canceled in 1986.

In 1989 the theater was closed. The final production was one-person show of the Tempest. Connecticut turned the property over to the town of Stratford in 2005 after a few failed attempts to develop the property. On January 13, 2019, a fire destroyed the theater. The cause is currently unknown.

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.

United Palace (Loew’s 175th Street Theatre)

This theater is not abandoned, but I had the chance to shoot it a few years ago, and I wanted to share the images with everyone.

View of the auditorium from the side of the balcony

The United Palace originally opened on February 22, 1930 as the Loew’s 175th Street Theatre. Located in the the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan, the building takes up an entire city block and was designed by famed theater architect Thomas W. Lamb. (Lamb’s work can also be seen in my posts on the RKO Hamilton Theatre also in Washington Heights, and the RKO Keith’s Theatre in Flushing, Queens.) The interior decor was designed by Harold Rambusch of the Rambusch Company, who did some of the interior work on the Kings Theatre in Brooklyn, the Boyd Theatre in Philadelphia and many others across the country. The theater was estimated to cost $1.25M to build in 1928 or $18.4M when adjusted for inflation. It was the first theater in Washington Heights designed specifically for talking pictures.

David W. Dunlap of the New York Times described the theater’s architectural style as “Byzantine-Romanesque-Indo-Hindu-Sino-Moorish-Persian-Eclectic-Rococo-Deco”

The 3,000 seat United Palace was the fifth and last of the theaters that became known as the “Loew’s Wonder Theatres.”  The wonder theater concept was originally developed by the Balaban and Katz Theater Corporation of Chicago to bring large movie palaces to smaller urban neighborhoods. Loew’s acquired three of Paramount’s planned wonder theaters (the Kings and Pitkin in Brooklyn and the Valencia in Queens) in a deal with the company in 1927. Each of the Loew’s Wonder Theatres originally had identical Robert Morton “Wonder” organs built specifically for them.

View of the lobby from the lobby mezzanine.

The opening day program consisted of a showing of “Their Own Desire” starring Norma Shearer and a stage show from the Capitol Theatre on Broadway.  Over the years many stars made appearances at the theater, including Judy Garland, Roy Rogers, Dale Evans and Joan Crawford. Loew’s closed the theater in March 1969, and later that year sold it to Rev. Frederick J. Eikerenkotter II, a television evangelist, for $600,000. Rev. Ike, as he was known, turned the theater into the headquarters of his church, now called the United Palace of Spiritual Arts, often hosting his television program from the stage, and renamed the theater the United Palace.

The United Palace was the only one of the Wonder Theatres that retained its original organ. The console can be seen at the lower right side of this photo.

In 2007, the theater became a concert venue and hosted acts such as Modest Mouse, Arcade Fire, Beck and Neil Young. Xavier Eikerenkotter, Rev. Ike’s son, created a non-profit called the United Palace of Cultural Arts to turn the theater into a performing and community arts center in 2012. One year later, the United Palace held a crowdfunding campaign to purchase a 50-foot screen. The campaign was a success, and the first movie screened in the theater in over 40 years was “Casablanca” on November 17, 2013. In 2016, Lin-Manuel Miranda donated $100,000 for a new state-of-the-art digital projector that launched the campaign “Reawaken Wonder at a Timeless Movie Palace,” to raise funds for cinema-quality audio. The United Palace has also been used as a filming location for television and motion pictures in recent years. Upcoming events and more information can be found on the theater’s website at: UnitedPalace.org

The organ was removed from the building by the New York Theatre Organ Society to undergo repairs in 2017.

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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