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Becoming Kings again

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This blockbuster renovation project is running ahead of schedule.

One year after breaking ground on a massive restoration of the Kings Theatre in Flatbush, restorers with Ace Theatrical Group say the picture palace that had sat abandoned since 1978 is actually less messed-up than they first thought, and that it could open in November, a month earlier than anticipated.

“We thought it was going to be harder,” said Ace president David Anderson. “It’s been a derelict building for 35 years — just sitting on Flatbush Avenue, gradually crumbling.”

The Courier took an exclusive tour of the construction project, which is meant to make the iconic theater look like it did when doors opened in 1929.

Once re-opened, the theater will host live music, theater, and dance acts, as well as several concession stands and a basement lounge. But first, Ace has to bring the venue back from the dead.

Ace inked a deal with the city in 2012 to restore the theater and operate it for 55 years, with more than half the $94-million project’s funding coming from taxpayers.

Water damaged much of the interior’s decorative plaster, so workers made molds of remaining embellishments to make recreating them easier, Anderson said.

Mildew destroyed much of the theater’s drapes and carpeting, but restorers found unharmed swatches in the basement and will use them as a pattern for copies, he said.

The theater’s ornate wood carvings were in better condition than Ace anticipated, too.

“There was an incredible amount of life and luster left in the wood,” Anderson said.

The theater group is looking into restoring the massive pipe organ that once accompanied silent movies, he said.

Moviegoers last entered the cinema in late 1977, but some of the details restorers are uncovering would only be familiar to the theater’s earliest patrons.

“We’re peeling back layer after layer of paint and exposing things that you could have never known were there,” Anderson said.

Workers discovered portraits carved into the stage’s proscenium arch that no one knew existed because they were covered in thick, black paint, he said.

Restorers aim to bring the theater back to its 1930s look, but there will be some modern-day improvements.

For one, there will be stadium seating — a departure from the original arrangement that required contractors to raise the floor.

Ace is also installing new heating, cooling, and fire-suppression, and bringing the back of the house up to date.

“There used to be this rabbit’s den of dressing rooms behind the stage,” Anderson said. “That will be replaced by a state-of-the-art facility.”

The football field-sized theater will be 1.5 times larger after the restoration, and the backstage area will take up most of that additional space. Ace also bought an adjacent commercial property, which it will turn into a box office, Anderson said.

There will be food and drinks — including alcohol — but management has not yet selected a vendor, said Matt Wolf, the theater’s newly minted executive director. There is no kitchen, but the theater may bring in caterers for special events or private parties, he said.

And do not let the sea of white faces on the architectural rendering fool you. Anderson said Ace will make sure the theater programming is affordable and appropriate for the predominately Caribbean and African-American neighborhood around the theater, where the median income is about $40,000.

“There is incredible variety in the population within a quarter mile of the theater — not to mention the whole of Brooklyn,” he said. “Ticket prices will be affordable for the local community for virtually all shows.”

Musical acts will include such genres as pop, reggae, and gospel, and the space will be available for events like high school graduations, Wolf said.

“We’re building a relationship with the community,” he said. “We want to create a sense of ownership.”

Reach reporter Max Jaeger at mjaeger@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-8303. Follow him on Twitter @MJaeger88.
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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