Photos: The Most Beautiful Old Movie Palace in Brooklyn, Back From the Brink
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Loew's Kings Theater

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Photo: Matt Lambros

There was a basketball court, of all things, in the basement — “a primitive one, but it was there,” Martinez says. The space was reused for dressing rooms — and additional bathrooms, because “I think there were four toilets for 3,600 seats before.”


“When you go in, look up at the top at the spiral columns on either side of the stage,” says restoration architect Gary Martinez. “You’ll see pairs of figures on either side, and they look proportionally correct, normal. When we put up the scaffolding floor, and got up to those things for the first time — those figures are 11 feet from top to bottom. I was amazed at how huge they are.”


Movie theaters can have a shallowly sloped floor, since everyone’s looking up at the screen; live-performance halls need a steeper rake, lowering the sight lines toward the stage. Since the Kings was built primarily for movies, “we repoured three-quarters of the floor,” says Martinez, “and the entire center portion of the balcony.”


“Almost the entire house-right side was lost to damage — we had to rebuild all that plaster,” says Martinez. “But even losing that area, we had a tremendous amount of original material to work with. We were able to take molds from different areas and re-create the decorative motifs.”


Barbra Streisand, contrary to neighborhood lore, was never an usherette here. But it was her local theater of choice, she has said, “partly because it had double features, air-conditioning, and great ice-cream cones.”

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Photo: Matt Lambros

Some walls had been repainted in different colors over the years; others had simply darkened with decades of smoke (yes, you used to be able to light up at the movies) and dirt. Microscopic studies revealed the lighter, brighter original palette.


The arched colonnade running around the auditorium, and the vaulted spaces above, survived mostly intact.


A few original seat standards — the plates at the ends of the rows — survived, and were used to cast a set of reproductions. “You wouldn’t think it, but we spent a lot of time on seating,” Martinez says.

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Photo: Courtesy of Theatre Historical Society of America

Every light fixture, except for a few of the biggest chandeliers, had been changed or stolen. The restorers spent a lot of time comparing old photographs of the theater with old electrical-fixture catalogues, to figure out what the builders had ordered.

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Photo: Matt Lambros

“It all has to be done differently from the way it used to, to meet accessibility codes, fire codes.” Legroom has been bumped up; so have seat widths, from 18 inches to 21, 23, and 24. That took the capacity down to 3,200.

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The Marquee: 1930

Photo: Courtesy of Theatre Historical Society of America
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The Marquee: 1966

Photo: Courtesy of Theatre Historical Society of America
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The Marquee: 2006

Photo: Richard Perry/The New York Times/Redux
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The Marquee: 2014

Photo: Chester Higgins Jr./The New York Times/Redux

The ornate marquee was rebuilt in boxier form sometime around mid-century; the vertical (“blade”) sign was cut down in the 1990s when it grew dangerous. A new marquee strongly echoes the original, and the support for a blade sign was retained, so it, too, may be re-created soon.


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