A Darkened Theater
The Loew's King theater has been positioned on the side of Flatbush ave in Brooklyn, NY for over 80 years now, and it has spent nearly half its lifetime in disuse. Ornately designed and elegantly appointed, the Kings theater was one of five “Loew's Wonder Theaters” constructed in the greater New York city area. The theater originally showed films as well as vaudeville acts, complete with an orchestra pit and built-in pipe organ. Eventually the decline in popularity of live performances led to the theater's conversion to a film-only venue. As time wore on, the theater fell out of popularity and eventually shuttered in 1977.
We first entered this theater through a small barred window lined in rust, which deposited us backstage. Minding our footing as we walked past the decaying curtains and fallen light fixtures, we made our way out to the seating area. This grand room, once full of light and sound welcomed us with absolute silence and darkness. With only our flashlights to guide us, this decayed theater seemed much more akin to an underground cavern than anything made by the hands of man. Even the floors had long since disappeared, covered now in the greyish-white residue of decomposing plaster. We shine our lights out toward the rows of seats, which illuminates some 25 feet of or so, and provide us with only a hint at the sheer size of the chamber we were now standing in. This room was built to sit over 3,500 people, now it just houses seemingly infinite rows of rotting red velvet chairs.
The room is so large, and so full of darkness, that we are completely unable to cast light upon the opposite wall or even the ceiling directly above our own heads. Thankfully we were here with an individual who was familiar with the old theater, and who had been here before us on a previous occasion. He told us to stay where we were, then immediately took off through a far doorway into the blackness. We did as asked, and spent some minutes pondering amongst ourselves where he had gone off to, and what was through those doors. Not long after that we heard a commotion in the darkness, and watched as he emerged from the shadows. In hand he hoisted a large utility lamp and stand, the kind you often see at construction sites. Apparently a few lamps had been left behind after a failed renovation project several years prior. Even more astounding was the fact that a far-off room was still on the power grid, again an artifact from the renovation which never happened. After walking about and collecting some several-hundred feet of extension cord from various places in the theater, we were finally able to properly light the room.
Words cannot convey the experience of clicking on those lamps. The blackness that had hung thick around us since we entered, and which had given the theater an almost claustrophobic feeling, was gone in a single instant. With that single click of a button the room became bathed in light, and the true scale of things hit you so hard that for a moment it stole your breath. We knew the place was huge, but to actually be standing in the midst of it was something altogether different. This room has sat in almost perpetual darkness since its closing in the late 1970's. The intense humidity and heat of the summer, as well as the extreme cold of the winter months, has caused a lot of damage over those nearly forty years. Still, the magnificence of this place is easily seen, primarily because of the extreme care and creativity put into its design back when it was first constructed. We found ourselves glancing upward toward the massive vaulted ceiling. It was then that we first saw the forms, many of them, staring bleakly back at us. Large faces decorated the canopy, and in those faces the passage of time was somehow more bitter, as if they were trying to communicate what they have seen over the past century.
Typically, this would be where the story ends - A sad tale of grandeur falling to ruin, and then finally lost to decay and neglect. This theater is a rare exception however - For the show is not yet over for the Loew's King. A few years after our visit renovations once again began at the aged theater, and this time they were realized. The Loew's Kings has once again been returned to its former glory through a $95 million dollar renovation. Renamed the 'Kings Theater', it has returned to its roots as a live-performance venue. Beyond the events now held therein, public tours are regularly held so that people may see, experience, and appreciate what architectural and historical preservation can mean.