Kings Theatre joins list of revived NYC institutions

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By Ivan Pereira

This Friday, the Kings Theatre in Flatbush will reopen its doors for the first time in nearly 40 years with a new look for a new era.

The revival is a rare event in a city where every week it seems another longtime neighborhood joint or landmark is shuttered, demolished or replaced with a chain store.

Daniel Soyer, a history professor at Fordham University, said there is an increasing movement in the city to preserve endangered establishments.

“People see importance in the site itself. Sometimes if things survive long enough they stop being old and start being antique,” he said.

There have been several locations throughout the city that avoided the ax and experienced a resurrection over the last few years. The groups or leaders that fought for their survival all had different approaches unified by a single key factor: mustering support from the neighborhood as fast as possible.

Kings Theatre

The Kings Theatre opened in 1929, at 1027 Flatbush Avenue, as one of five NYC-area Loew’s Wonder Theatres, offering audiences a mix of movies and vaudeville shows. Although the French baroque exteriors attracted crowds for decades, things changed in the ’70s when the city fell on hard times. The theater screened its last flick in 1988.

“The theater closed because the neighborhood had changed and the money wasn’t there for it,” Soyer said.

For years, advocates tried to get the 3,000-seat theater renovated and reopened but had no luck, because money and community support were not there. Carlo Scissura, the president of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, said new Flatbush residents took an interest in the theater and pushed the city, which owned the property, to revive it.

“In the early 2000s this really started being talked about again,” he said of the renovations.

Former Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz and the city’s Economic Development Corporation used that public support to make the case and in 2008, issued a request to architects for a new design. Five years later, the $93.9 million work began.

The new theater, which will kick off with a ribbon-cutting Friday and a Diana Ross show on Feb. 3, includes 7,000 more square feet than before for the stage, dressing rooms and loading areas, improved lighting and new carpeting.

The theater will host a wide variety of acts in the next couple of months, including Sarah McLachlan on March 14, Frankie Valli And the Four Seasons on March 21 and Gladys Knight on June 6. Matthew Wolf, the theater’s executive director, said the years of hard work paid off.

“We are thrilled to welcome New Yorkers back to this historic space and to launch a new era of presenting live entertainment,” he said in a statement.

Rainbow Room

A tenant-landlord dispute forced Rockefeller Center’s rotating restaurant to shut its doors in 2009.

New building owners didn’t want the 81-year-old space to become a distant memory and in 2013 they began to restore it. When it reopened in October, the Rainbow Room had a mix of old features, like the dance floor, and new treats, such as the crystal curtains.

Soyer said most restorations in the city go for this kind of hybrid approach.

“They will be saved, but they won’t always be the same things as they were before,” he explained. “Sometimes the facade will be there but the interiors will be modern and fit a new audience.”

Gallagher’s Steakhouse

Recent long-running city staples, such as Rizzoli Bookstore, were forced out by new landlords who thought those stores no longer had a place in the urban landscape.

Dean Poll, who bought Gallagher’s Steakhouse in 2013, felt differently about the 88-year-old midtown restaurant. At the same time, it needed a new polish that would attract a bigger crowd.

“If the issue is bad management, then its time to change management. If it’s because of relevancy, you have an opportunity to change it,” he said.

Helen Gallagher opened the restaurant, which was originally a speakeasy, in 1928, and in 1963 Jerry Brody purchased it. Brody died in 2001 and his widow took over ownership. She left a lot of the day-to-day work to the management, which wasn’t maintaining the site sufficiently, according to Poll.

“Gallagher’s was doing the same thing in 2013 as 1972,” he said of the food and design choices. “It was also in tremendous disrepair.”

Higher costs and lower revenue put the restaurant on the verge of closure but Brody agreed to sell it to Poll in January 2013. Poll, who also owns the Central Park Boathouse, closed Gallagher’s for renovations, which included installing bigger windows, a refurbished bar and a new cocktail menu.

Since the reopening, things have gone well, according to Poll. “I’d like to think that Gallagher’s will be in New York for many years to come,” he said.

Coney Island parachute

Brooklyn’s defunct amusement park ride has been the talk of a restoration effort for decades.

Built for the 1939 World’s Fair in Queens, the ride moved to Steeplechase Park two years later and was in operation for 20 years. During the ‘70s, however, it suffered massive decay and its future was in doubt, according to Charlie Denson, the executive director of the Coney Island History Project.

“People used to walk down the boardwalk and say, ‘It’s dangerous, it’s decrepit. Take it down,’” he recalled.

Fortunately the city didn’t go with that option and in 2003 work began on rehabilitating the structure to fit in with the rest of Coney Island.

Tavern on the Green

Bankruptcy shut down the Central Park restaurant in 2009 after 75 years of operation.

Although the parks department used the site for occasional functions, loyal customers wanted Tavern on the Green back.

“Sometimes when there are revivals. People see importance in the site itself,” Soyer said.

Fortunately, the Emerald Green Group, a Philadelphia-based developer, signed a 20-year lease in 2013 and went to work on renovations. When Tavern on the Green reopened last April, crowds were delighted with the changes that included new indoor and outdoor tables, and a 110-seat garden.

New York State Pavilion

The iconic towers and “Tent of Tomorrow” that comprise the New York State Pavilion in Flushing Meadows Corona Park served as a crown jewel of Queens when they opened during the 1964 World’s Fair for concerts, events and other celebrations.

Today, the structure has rusted over, and its floor map of the city has all but deteriorated. Very little maintenance has been done since it closed in the 1980s.

Salmaan Khan, a co-founder of People for the Pavilion, a nonprofit dedicated to reopening the structure, said last year’s 50th anniversary celebrations put a spotlight on the tower.

“It made people realize new uses for old structures,” he said.

Queens Borough President Melinda Katz has allocated $5.8 million in capital funding that will pay for refurbishing. A complete restoration and reopening would cost $52 million, according to early feasibility studies, but Khan said there are plans to create educational tours and programs around the site in 2015.

“All signs are pointing in the right direction for this,” he said. “We’ve very confident that it will regain its limelight.”

Grand Avenue Post Office in Astoria

Back in 2011, the federal government mulled closing thousands of post offices nationwide and the branch located at 45-08 30th Ave., was put on alert.

The post office, which has served the neighborhood for at least a half century, raked in a little less than the $600,000 annual revenue threshold that the USPS set when deciding which offices to shut down.

City Councilman Costa Constantinides, who at the time was a Democratic district leader, said the post office was more than just a parcel sending center for the community.

“This was a hub for seniors, children. The local American Legion would come together and send gifts to the troops every year there,” he said.

Constantinides added that the closure would have meant that nearby residents would have to go a half-mile away for their postal needs.

During the summer, Constantinides hosted two rallies and sought the aide of elected officials like U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, who sent 1,000 signatures to the Postmaster General.

“The neighborhood really came together and let the postal service know that this couldn’t be lost,” the councilman said.

The show of force by the Astoria community helped to sway the federal government to backtrack and keep the center open.

“Almost three-and-a-half years later all is well,” Constantinides said of the post office.

Makins Hats Factory

Hidden on 35th Street and 7th Avenue is one of the city’s largest hat making factories. A few years ago, it was about to vanish. Marsha Akins opened the factory in 1974 and designers from around the world call the company to order hats.

One of those fashion entrepreneurs was Satya Twena, who said she was shocked when Akins’ son told her the factory was closing in October 2013. The 31-year-old immediately asked to buy the factory.

“I quickly started calling the owner and the owner’s son and basically asked them what they were thinking,” she recalled.

A month later, Twena took over the business but had to temporarily close it because the space was in need of many renovations.

“I spent about three weeks just getting rid a lot of junk. There was dust on the ceilings and the bathrooms were just … dirty,” she said.

Luckily, a Kickstarter campaign helped to fund and raise awareness for the project and factory, now called Satya Twena Fine Millinery. Twena said the key factor in her success is rallying the city’s fashion community.

“Everyone wants to help an underdog. There are places that are afraid of saying they are the underdog, but in the city people want to see you succeed,” she said.

This entry was posted on Thursday, January 22nd, 2015 at 6:49 pm and is filed under amNewYork, Feature, Politics, Print Articles. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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