On Monday evening, 25 lucky Untapped Cities readers attended the launch of our Behind the Scenes NYC Tour Series in partnership with the NYCEDC, in a tour of the Brooklyn Kings Theatre. Led by Matt Wolf, Executive Director of Kings Theatre, Christina DeRose, Senior Vice President at NYCEDC and Charley Macgrew, Director of Marketing at Kings Theatre, guests were given an insider perspective on the multi-year restoration. While walking through the space, we were struck by the number of lesser-known secrets of the theater, one of the opulent Loew’s Wonder Theatres.
1. There Used to be Basketball Court and League in the Basement
Flatbush was once one of the premier entertainment destinations in Brooklyn, and the revitalization of the neighborhood is one of the goals from the NYCEDC with the re-opening of the Kings Theatre. At its peak, there were a number of theaters in this area and the proper appearance of the staff was tantamount. The basements of the theaters became de-facto workout areas and an inter-theater basketball league was created. As a result, there was once a basketball court in the basement of the Kings Theatre, a space that is now bathrooms and other facilities.
2. The Original Furniture of the Kings Theatre Just Got Returned
As the Kings Theatre was closing in 1977, the furniture was given to one of the managers of the theaters then. When her family heard the theater was being reopened, they offered the furniture back and the pieces were returned to the space yesterday, March 18th. Many pieces will go in the mezzanine bathroom vestibule, pictured above.
3. The Right Side of the Auditorium Had Collapsed and Was Recreated Using a Mold from the Left Side
The side pictured was used as a mold for restoring the opposite side of the theater
Closed since 1977, the Kings Theatre had deteriorated extensively over the course of decades. The ceiling and wall on the right side of the theater, when facing the stage, had collapsed but could be recreated because the the left side was still intact. A mold of the ornamentation and structure was recreated and used for the restoration. Christina DeRose, Senior Vice President at NYCEDC, told us of the bats that had taken up residence in the theater (along with their guano).
4. There Are Fireplaces in the Kings Theatre
Because why not? A grand restored fireplace, non-working, is at the entrance to the bathrooms on the first floor. Another is in the bathroom vestibule on the mezzanine level.
5. All of the Detail on the Theatre is Hand Painted
Every detail, down to the end stands of each row of seats is hand painted. This means that the restoration required extensive scaffolding to get the artisans up close with the ornamentation.
6. The Light Fixtures: What’s Original, What’s Not
On the first floor lobby, seven chandeliers of the chandeliers are original and one is a replica. In the hallway of the mezzanine level, only one light fixture survived. In the tour, Matt Wolf, Executive Director of Kings Theatre, mentions that people had offered to sell back the scavenged light fixtures, but at prices beyond the budget of the restoration. Instead, the last surviving fixture served as a model for the rest. Indistinguishable from the rest, the original chandelier is located second to last at the right end of the hallway when exiting the auditorium.
7. The Street Behind the Kings Theatre Was Permanently De-mapped in the Restoration
Occasionally in New York City, certain streets are de-mapped. One of the most famous was the closing of Temple Street and the moving of Thames Street to accommodate the Trinity and U.S. Realty Buildings in downtown Manhattan. For the Kings Theatre, East 22nd Street between Tilden Avenue and Duryea Place was de-mapped and closed for the expansion of the stage house. In a comment to the New York Times, Kyle Kimball, president of the NYCEDC explains that the expansion “will allow for dressing rooms, space to store theater sets and other critical back-of-house operations.”
8. The Cold Water Cooling System of the Kings Theatre Was the First in the United States
Below the seats and in the rows of the theatre, you’ll come across grates in the floor. This was part of the existing HVAC cooling system, the first of its kind in the United States, and much of the original ductwork was salvaged in the restoration.
9. An Alcove for Baby Sitting?
There are a lot of rumors as to what the alcoves in the front of the auditorium, with the caryatids, were used for. One of their favorite attributions is that it was a spot for baby sitting.
10. The Original Water Fountains May One Day Function Again
On the first floor, there are original water fountains (engraved with the words “Drink and Be Refreshed”). The team is looking to restore them to functionality.
Some other fun facts:
The theater is modeled after the Paris Opera Garnier and Versailles
The proscenium arch over the stage is of course, quite reminiscent of the Opera Garnier in Paris but the Fleur de Lis pattern above the doorways are a reference to the French monarchy at Versailles.
The Former Smoking Room Is Now a VIP Area
Former Smoking Room, furniture coming back soon
The following are additional photographs from the tour.
Follow the hashtag #UntappedNYCEDC for more photos and join us for an upcoming Untapped Cities event. Check out upcoming shows at Kings Theatre, including Bjork and Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Get in touch with the author @untappedmich.