Building of the Day: 1025 Flatbush Avenue

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Brooklyn, one building at a time.

Name: Loew’s King Theater
Address: 1025 Flatbush Avenue, between Linden Blvd and East 22nd St.
Neighborhood: Flatbush
Year Built: 1929
Architectural Style: French Baroque
Architects: Rapp and Rapp
Other buildings by architect: Paramount Theater in Times Square, Palace Theater-Chicago, Loew’s Jersey Theater-Jersey City.
Landmarked: No, but should be.

The story: Most readers are familiar with the efforts to save this iconic Brooklyn theater. It is one of the great movie palaces built in the late 1920’s, when theaters for the common man were made to impress, and were often more interesting and splendiferous themselves, than what was going on below on the stage or screen. It opened in September of 1929, the 3,676 capacity theatre enjoying a live stage show with orchestra and pipe organ, and the film Evangeline, starring Dolores Del Rio, who made a live appearance. It is interesting, in these old theaters, to see the transition from live vaudeville and theater to cinema. Ideally, seating and stage arrangements are quite different for the two, but many houses simply put screens up on the theatrical stage, and went on. This theater was primarily designed for movies, with excellent sight lines, a large floor seating area, and a smaller mezzanine. The architects, Cornelius and George Rapp, were brothers based in Chicago, but they designed scores of movie palaces across the country. They designed the Loew’s King in a lavish French Baroque style, where more was never enough. The ornate lobby was superseded only by the theater itself, with every gilded festoon imaginable, in terra cotta, plaster and sumptuous fabrics and trim. For Brooklynites suffering from the Great Depression, sparing a few cents to see a movie in such splendor must have been a treat. Over the years, a few local people who worked there, Barbra Striesand, Sylvester Stallone, Henry Winkler, and Ben Vereen, have become legends themselves. The last show played in 1977, and the city got the theatre for non-payment of taxes in 1979, and has been trying to unload it, or do something with it ever since. The huge and ornate interior is now in need of major overhaul. Fortunately, there are now plans to turn the theater into a performance space again, thanks to the ACE Theatrical Group of Houston. They plan to reintroduce the Loew’s King back to the public in 2014. I have never seen the interior in person, only photographs, so I look forward to that. In the meantime, the terra-cotta exterior has never been more visible, since the Loew’s sign has been removed. Now, in its rather grimy splendor, we can see the craftsmanship in the design of the façade, with masks, Medusas, musical instruments, flora and fauna. All styled in a wonderful Baroque manner, reminiscent of Mediterranean villas and pleasure gardens. All on Flatbush Avenue, in the heart of Brooklyn.

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