FLATBUSH — After more than 30 years of abandonment and decay, the Loew’s Kings Theatre is finally set to return to its former glory.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other city officials gathered Wednesday to kick off a $94 million restoration of the soaring 3,200-seat Flatbush Avenue theater, which has been falling into disrepair since it was shuttered in 1977.
“It’s just a spectacular space. In this case, I don’t even have to have a lot of imagination to envision what it’s going to be like,“ said Bloomberg, who stood in the frigid former lobby under crisscrossed wires strung to provide light.
The former movie theater, inspired by the Palace of Versailles and the Paris Opera House, was once Brooklyn's venue of choice for dates and high school graduation ceremonies — not to mention a first job for many, including a young Sylvester Stallone.
But since it was shuttered, the theater has fallen into mass disrepair. Its glass and mirrors are shattered, the ornate plaster walls are peeling and its glazed terra-cotta facade is blackened with dirt. Visitors are advised to wear hard hats to protect themselves from plaster chunks falling from the crumbling ceiling, and the strong scent of mold fills the air.
“It does look as though things are melting right before our eyes,” said Gary Martinez, who will be working in the project along with ACE Theatrical, which specializes in historic restoration.
The restoration is intended to return the theater to its former glory, while adding more than 20,000 square feet of backstage space for live productions as well as new technology. The theater is scheduled to reopen in 2015.
The deal, which has several partners including ACE Theatrical, involves a 55-year lease with the city, which is kicking in $50 million, Bloomberg said.
Despite the obvious damage, Martinez said the basic structure of the building remains surprisingly sound.
“They really did know how to build them back them,” he said.
Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz said he was thrilled the theater had been saved after repeated attempts to tear it down or turn it into a 14-screen multiplex.
He recalled his very first date, which took place at the theater at the tender age of 15, and didn't go well. When he made a risky move and wrapped his arm around the young lady's shoulders, "she threw it right off," he said.
“That was my first and only date with her," he joked. "But my love affair with the Loew’s Kings really stayed for my entire life.”
He said he hoped the theater would emerge as a top Brooklyn destination and help boost development along the Flatbush Avenue strip.