Queens man starts petition to restore RKO Keith’s theater

Richard Thornhill has started a petition to restore the historic RKO Keith’s theater.
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A Queens man has started an online petition in the hopes of restoring Flushing’s famous RKO Keith’s theater.

Richard Thornhill created the petition “Save the RKO Keith’s theater in Flushing Queens” on last week directed at Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Xinyuan Real Estate. As of Wednesday he has gotten 2,253 signatures out of his 2,500 goal.

The petition is asking elected officials to restore the RKO Theater’s original landmark status and restore the physical theater itself. In May the city Landmarks Preservation Commission approved renovation plans for the historic theater located at 135-35 Northern Blvd.

Thornhill, 33, grew up in Bayside and currently lives in Forest Hills. He said as a child he would walk by the theater with his mother and she would tell him stories about how beautiful it was. The petition, which he calls a group effort, began as a Facebook page. According to Thornhill, supporters of the petition have different reasons for wanting to preserve the theater but mainly they want to keep a historic, unique part of Queens alive.

The theater was purchased by Xinyuan Real Estate last July for $66 million, the fifth developer to try to convert the long abandoned theater. The China-based real estate company plans to build a 16-story condominium with 269 units, while preserving the landmarked grand foyer and ticket lobby. The building will stand at just over 189 feet and the landmarked ticket lobby and grand foyer will be the entry for the condo.

According to the project schedule, the removal of the historic material in the theater began in June, and the demolition of the non-landmarked parts of the surrounding building started in October. Construction of the condo is set to be finished by April 2020.

On his petition Thornhill wrote that preserving RKO was important because it is one of two atmospheric theaters left in Queens. He said Xinyuan Real Estate has no plan for public access to the landmarked lobby.

“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 read. “Since the theater has been shuttered there have been attempts to make it into either a museum or performing arts center in Queens, an equivalent to BAM. This may be our last attempt to save a piece of our history.”

Thornhill said that while there are other historic theaters in Queens, including Queens Theater and Flushing Townhall, RKO has a greater seating capacity and is a relic that deserves to live on.

“We are not asking Xinyaun Real Estate to give up the performance space, but understand that a functional restored theater with the character and beauty of a RKO would attract more people to the area and could be a profitable venture,” the petition continued. “So please sign this petition to save the RKO Keith’s Theater before one of our great buildings is gone forever.”

The petition has hundreds of comments in support of the restoration. Commentor Lindy Peterson wrote that modern isn’t always better when it comes to theaters.

“Once our heritage is gone it can never be replaced,” she wrote. “These theaters should be on the protected list for their beauty and artwork alone. They can always be repurposed. There is one in Europe they turned into a beautiful library. Please don’t destroy this beauty.”

Reach Gina Martinez by e-mail at or by phone at (718) 260–4566.

Updated 12:32 am, July 10, 2018
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Reader feedback

Robert Mann from Bayside says:
I totally agree, this historic landmark should be restored to its former beauty. Over the years this property has been sold and resold, with empty promises of restoration, but to date the it sits as an eye sore.
Nov. 15, 2017, 6:41 am

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