A once gilded Brooklyn movie palace that's been crumbling for decades, with pigeons infesting its stage, is back — again a glittering gem from the 1920s.
Diana Ross headlines Tuesday's opening night at the 3,200-seat Kings Theatre in the Flatbush neighborhood where a teenage Barbra Streisand spent afternoons enjoying double-features.
After a two-year, $95 million renovation, every detail from its jazz age 1929 incarnation has come to life amid computerized sound and LED lighting. The theater that first opened weeks before the Wall Street crash in 1929 is now the largest in New York's biggest borough.
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"We don't want to make it look brand new; its character, its patina, is the glow and the warmth and the burnishing of the gold- and the copper-leaf, of the beautiful light fixtures, the seats, the carpet and the fabric -- it all blends together so perfectly," says David Anderson, president and CEO of the Houston, Texas-based ACE Theatrical Group selected to restore and operate the city-owned property.
"And yet," he added, "if we can't make it be a piece of successful commerce, we've wasted our time."
In the next few months, programs will feature entertainers from Gladys Knight and Crosby, Stills & Nash to Sarah McLachlan -- the first of about 200 live annual events being planned.
Gone are the pigeons that left years of droppings inches deep in a space that also served as a refuge for homeless New Yorkers. Balconies that had collapsed onto water- and mold-soaked floors are up again, complete with new red velvet seating.
The roof no longer leaks. And the 2,000-pound, Art Deco lobby chandeliers -- too heavy for vandals to strip -- again exude splendor above the re-polished entrance marble.
The carpeting is patterned after the original one that was destroyed -- except for a tiny strip discovered under a defunct popcorn machine that served to duplicate the pattern.
The theater has a goal that reaches beyond its terra-cotta, ornamental facade: to be an economic engine for a once heavily Jewish neighborhood now home to many Caribbean immigrants. Some are struggling in a community that has survived a roller-coaster of crime and decay on its way to the current real-estate renewal.
Most of about 100 jobs at Kings will go to area residents, with local restaurants and small businesses also benefiting.
On Feb. 7, Kings will open its doors for free tours.
"We'll be catering to the immediate community, presenting shows that interest New Yorkers from the Caribbean culture," says Anderson.
To accommodate families, ticket prices for some shows will start as low as $15.
The 86-year-old venue, its decor inspired by France's Palace of Versailles and the Paris Opera, was one of the five Loew's "Wonder Theatres" in New York and New Jersey -- sumptuous homes to a budding movie culture.
By 1977, when the theater was shuttered, suburban multiplexes had replaced the grand, deteriorating inner-city palaces. Kings was acquired by the city in 1983 due to nonpayment of taxes, and it took another two decades to raise the $95 million for the restoration.
About half the money came from the city and the state, and the rest from the Goldman Sachs Urban Investment Group and the ACE Theatrical Group.
Expert craftsmen and designers from across the country worked to restore everything from the high curved ceilings and ornately carved American walnut paneling to mosaics depicting medieval chivalry. Vintage black-and-white photos helped the crew to recreate totally decimated areas.
Wall tapestries were so badly damaged that they had to be newly manufactured. But the traditional weaving looms needed could only be found in Portugal.
On a snowy New York afternoon a day before the opening, technicians cranked up the music decibel level to test mammoth, $100,000-plus speakers facing the empty auditorium.
Industrial vacuum cleaners roared from the stage, sucking up the last construction debris.
Kings was ready for Diana Ross.