The Brooklyn Kings Theatre, opened in 1929, was built as one of the five Loew’s Wonder Theaters in the New York City area, the most opulent movie palaces in the country. The Loew’s Kings Theatre was modeled after the Opera Garnier in Paris and the palace at Versailles. Flatbush was once one of the premier entertainment destinations in Brooklyn, and the revitalization of the neighborhood was one of the goals from the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) with the renovation of the Kings Theatre.
Closed in 1977, the Kings Theatre had deteriorated extensively over the course of decades. Bats had taken up residence, and the ceiling and wall of the auditorium on stage left had collapsed. Fortunately, the interior could be recreated using a mold of the other side that was still intact.
The theater had some incredible innovations for its time, including the first HVAC cooling system in the United States. It even had a basketball court in the basement, built for theater employees. The multi-year, $95 million restoration by Martinez+Johnson Architecture was painstaking, including hand painting the ornamentation from the ceiling down to the end stands on each row of seats. It can be hard to tell in the restoration what is original and what is not. For example, the carpet, all 2,354 square feet of it, is a historical recreation. So are the tapestries, curtain and tassels. The chandeliers in the lobby are all original except for one, but on the mezzanine level, only one original remains.
Matt Wolf, Executive Director of Kings Theatre, mentions that people had offered to sell back 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 others, the original chandelier is located second to last at the right end of the hallway when exiting the auditorium.
The furniture may be the most overlooked secret of the Brooklyn Kings Theatre. When the theater closed in 1977, the lobby furniture was given to one of its long-time managers, Dorothy Solomon Panzica, who brought the pieces to her summer home in Corning, New York. In 2013, at 100 years old, Panzica heard that the theater was going to be restored. She decided to donate the furniture back, whereupon the pieces underwent a $75,000 – $80,000 restoration.
Among the pieces include a console table made in Paris by André Lemoine, furniture maker to the court of Napoleon III. There are also Louis XVI-style chairs, incredibly ornate chairs worthy of a throne, and a lounge sofa. The management of the Kings Theatre made the decision to allow the furniture to be used, rather than roped off like in a museum. You can find the pieces in the lobby, in the VIP room, and scattered throughout the theater.
Tomorrow, you can join Untapped Cities and the NYCEDC in a special tour of the Brooklyn Kings Theatre, part of our Behind the Scenes NYC tour series
Next, check out the Top 10 Secrets of the Brooklyn Kings Theatre.