With thanks to THS member DEBBIE HUMPHREYS:
By JEREMY OLSHAN, NY Post, 1/13/11
It’s a palace fit for Queens.
The RKO Keith’s Theatre, a once-glorious movie house that’s been an eyesore in Flushing since being shuttered 25 years ago, will be reborn as a massive housing development.
Although most of the palace’s interior was gutted in the 1980s by the building’s longtime former owner, Tommy Huang — despite receiving city landmark status — what remains of the lobby will be fully restored as part of a $160 million project, developer Patrick Thompson told The Post.
Situated in a prime location where Main Street dead-ends into Northern Boulevard, the glass-canopied, 17-story RKO apartments will feature 357 units, 360 parking spaces, ground-level retail and a senior center.
Much of the project is based on the 2005 plans by a prior owner, Shaya Boymelgreen, which fell through.
Boymelgreen had intended the building to have 200 massive luxury condo units, “but in the current market that just didn’t make sense,” said Thompson, who bought the dilapidated wreck for $20 million.
“We increased the number of units and they will be market-rate rentals, which better fit in with what makes sense for Flushing.”
With community board approval expected in coming weeks, and assuming ground is broken later this year, the new RKO could be completed in 2013, Thompson said.
The building’s sordid history has more villains, twists and turns than any of the movies shown on its massive screen, said architect Jay Valgora, of STUDIO V Architecture.
“But everyone wants to see it finally built,” he said.
The new apartment complex mixes contemporary design with the movie palace’s original 1928 wonder, he said.
The three-story lobby is all that remains of the theater’s original atmosphere, but its grand stairs, painted skies, and flowing fountains will all be brought back to their original grandeur, he said.
“We will put that landmark lobby on stage for all time through the glass, and relate the old and the new — it’s a powerful statement about what Flushing used to be, and where Flushing is going.”
The contemporary design provides a neat bookend to the glass-curtained library branch further down Main Street, he said.
Major logistical and bureaucratic hurdles needed to be overcome to make the new design work, including plans to protect the lobby with a steel cocoon during the demolition.
“You have buildings on either side, a high water table underneath, and airplanes approaching La Guardia above,” Valgora said. “It’s a pretty challenging site, but one that will finally be brought back from the dead.”