For Matt Lambros, the appeal of an abandoned building is undeniable. But once the Brooklyn-based photographer stumbled upon the derelict Kings Theatre in 2009, he found the subject that would capture his imagination and ignite a passion for documenting America’s forgotten movie palaces.
After being closed for decades and facing the possibility of demolition, the once-grand Kings Theatre came back to life in 2015. And now, Lambros is coming out with a book illustrating the building’s history, covering everything from its birth to its closing, decline and $95 million restoration.
Brownstoner talked with Lambros about the Kings and what it’s like photographing Brooklyn’s crumbling buildings. Lambros’s book, Kings Theatre: The Rise, Fall and Rebirth of Brooklyn’s Wonder Theatre, will be released this summer, but it’s currently available for preorder online.
How did you become interested in abandoned spaces, specifically derelict theaters?
My interest in abandoned buildings started when I was pretty young. My grandmother used to take my brother and I into old barns while she was babysitting the two of us. My mother wasn’t too happy about that, but it left a lasting impression on me, and I started sneaking into abandoned buildings around the same time I got my driver’s license. I didn’t start documenting them until the early 2000s, and switched to almost exclusively abandoned theaters after my first visit to the Kings in late 2009.
What’s special about Loew’s Kings Theatre?
What makes the Loew’s Kings special to me is the theater’s rich history and its beautiful decor. I grew up in the 1980s and ’90s and if I saw a movie it was at a multiplex. So the idea that people would go see a movie in a theater like the Kings was a foreign concept to me. I came across a photograph of the Kings online, started researching the theater’s history and was hooked.
Does Brooklyn have any other memorable theaters?
Unfortunately, one of my other favorite theaters in Brooklyn, the Loew’s 46th Street, was recently gutted to make way for condos. It seems like that’s happening to a lot of the abandoned buildings in Brooklyn, and in most cases it’s not a bad thing.
What do you look for when you’re photographing the abandoned?
This is kind of a strange thing to say but I like the way buildings decay. I’ve always enjoyed visiting ruins of old cultures, or reading about them in books. Photographing abandoned buildings is kind of a way for me to visit a different time in history.
How’d you end up in Brooklyn, and what do you do for a living?
I moved to Brooklyn from Boston after college to look for work as a photographer, and that’s how I make my living — mainly through product photography and head shots, but some architectural work as I’ve become more well known through my work with the theaters.
What will your next big project will be?
I’m not quite done photographing abandoned theaters, as I still have a pretty extensive list of ones I haven’t made it to yet.
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