BY JAMES FARRELL
Forest Hills resident Richard Thornhill won’t let the historic Flushing RKO Keith’s Theater go down without a fight.
Thornhill, who is part of the Facebook group “Save the Flushing RKO,” started a petition last week on Change.org that has garnered nearly 400 signatures. The petition addresses Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, Mayor Bill de Blasio, the New York City Landmarks Commission, other elected officials and developers Xinyuan Real Estate.
“Other theaters across the country and in New York City have been restored and there is no reason why the RKO has to be left to die,” the petition reads.
The historic theater was shuttered in 1986 and has since fallen into disrepair. Multiple development plans for the site have gone unrealized and the building has changed hands repeatedly.
The latest developers, Xinyuan Real Estate, seem poised to follow through on a plan for a 16-story, 269-unit condominium development that would restore and preserve the theater’s landmarked lobby and ticket foyer. Work on the project has already begun.
But the residents who signed the petition envision a full restoration.
“They’re finally starting to fix up the lobby, which is great,” Thornhill told the Queens Tribune. “Once people start seeing what they lost, people are going to start regretting that.”
Thornhill said that in 1984, when the theater was landmarked, an addendum was included by the New York City Board of Estimate to restrict the landmarking to not include the auditorium. The petition refers to the reason for that decision as “ambiguous” and calls for restoration of the original landmark status.
Comments from signatories on the petition are laced with nostalgia and refer to the theater as an important part of Queens’ history.
“I’m signing because my great aunt Rosie isn’t here anymore to sign, and she lived in Flushing for 60 years,” wrote commenter Adrienne Bentolila. “Name a chair for her please!”