In the geographic and cultural heart of Brooklyn, a dilapidated theater has found new life. Sandwiched between a bridal shop and a bank, opposite a construction site and a 99-cent store, the newly opened Kings Theatre represents hope for a changing neighborhood.
The Kings Theatre opened for the first time in 1929. Then in the late 1970s as multiplex cinemas and changing patterns of entertainment consumption seeped in, it was forced to close. For nearly four decades, the theater fell into disrepair. Walls crumbled, mold grew, and the stage routinely flooded. Chandeliers were looted while local residents and the city alike struggled with what to do with the theater. Meanwhile, as the walls around the theater were collapsing, three similar cinemas in the area also closed down and Flatbush went through economic hardship.
In 2009, a partnership between the city government, state government and private businesses started pouring money and resources in and the Kings Theatre opened its doors to construction workers. After six months spent clearing mold and asbestos from the ruins, they began the meticulous process of bringing the 1929 theater back to life. They stripped back nearly a century’s worth of paint with razor blades to reveal the original colorings. They reconstructed the faces of statues and polished cast iron drinking fountains. The road behind the theater, 22nd Street, was permanently closed so the backstage area could be extended. Then, they rolled out a red and gold elegant floral carpet and raised the antique chandeliers to their former glory.
Six years and $94 million later, the Kings Theatre reopened its doors this year. It’s now a pristine 3,000-seat venue. On opening night in February, every red velvet chair was filled to watch Diana Ross on the stage and Flatbush quivered with a buzz that hadn’t been felt in a generation.
“The theater’s not just a place for entertainment,” said Matthew Wolf, Kings Theatre’s executive director. “It’s an engine for economic revitalization.” Through periods of economic growth and decline in Flatbush over the last century, the Kings Theatre remained a solid emblem of what the area could be. Now, Wolf hopes it will bring life back to the area.
“We’re not creating something, we’re restoring and revitalizing something that was already here,” said Wolf. “We’re bringing back the Kings Theater and giving it new life and new energy.”
The theater’s management believes it will bring new jobs, tourists and cultural events for the whole community. On the bill for the coming year are shows that reflect the multiculturalism of the area. From dance hall reggae performances to Disney princesses, the Kings Theatre has a diverse playbill planned for its first year.
“It’s been a very warm reception,” said Wolf. “It’s a point of pride for Flatbush. Flatbush now has New York City’s most beautiful venue.”