As a raccoon peeped out from a ledge of a dilapidated window at the RKO Keith Theater, lifelong Queens resident, Richard Thornhill said it breaks his heart to look at the building, knowing the once opulent cinema will soon be demolished.
“I’ve walked past this my whole life, waiting for it to reopen, waiting to see everything inside," Thornhill said.
In mid-February, during a Queens Community Board 7 meeting, he learned developers plan to demolish the partially land marked theater, 33 years after it closed in 1986.
“After fighting for so long to keep the theater I don’t want to see it torn down,” Thornhill said.
There have been many grassroots efforts to save the theater for the past three decades. Two years ago, Thorhill started a petition urging developers to restore the old theater to its glory as a community space for the performing arts. The petition garnered more than 4,000 signatures.
The theater opened in 1928 on Main Street and Northern Boulevard. It was once considered a historic landmark, but by the mid-80s, only three areas inside maintained New York City landmark status: the lobby, grand foyer, and ticket booth.
“The theater was not land marked," Thornhill explained.
Those restoration hopes seem impossible now that developers are moving ahead with plans to raze the theater, and build a glassy 269-unit condominium and retail space instead.
Contractors confirm the historic elements of the building will be removed, restored off site, and reinstalled in the future.
The plans, which hit a snag last year due to land mark issues, are back on track to the dismay of residents.
“I feel like it’s not good for the community. It’s very historic and we should keep it instead of building condos,” said Flushing resident, Daniel Mavashev.
While Thornhill said he appreciates the efforts to preserve the land marked areas within the building, he believes the borough is losing an opportunity to build a thriving cultural center.
“In an ideal world, it never would have closed, it would still be open, and be a performing arts Center like BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music) in Brooklyn,” he said.
The developers, Xinyuan Real Estate, tell NY1 they do not have a timeline yet on when demolition and construction will begin. So far, the city has not posted demolition permits for the building.