Queens resident collects signatures in final push to save RKO Keith’s from demolition

Photo via NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission

One Queens resident has started a call to save a beloved Flushing theater from demolition — and more than 1,000 residents have joined him.

Richard Thornhill, who grew up in Bayside and now lives in Forest Hills, is making the final push to protect the RKO Keith’s Theater from becoming a condo building with an online petition. First posted in late October, the appeal is quickly approaching its 1,500 signature goal.

“This is kind of the last chance to save it,” Thornhill said. “Building something like that from scratch — we don’t make things like that anymore. And it’s very important to people in the community.”

The movie palace at 135-29 Northern Blvd. opened in 1928 and was granted partial interior landmark status on its ornate grand lobby and ticket foyer spaces shortly before closing in 1986. Vacant ever since, the site has passed between several developers who have tried unsuccessfully to bring their envisioned projects to fruition.

In May, the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) gave the green light to developer Xinyuan Real Estate, who will build a glassy, 16-floor condominium building at the site. The existing landmarked ticket lobby and grand foyer will be restored off-site and reinstalled, serving as the entryway for the residential building.

Thornhill’s mother, who grew up in Whitestone, would often tell stories about her experiences in the arts center.

“It was a place that she would go to a lot,” he said. “As a kid, you listen to these things, and your imagination just goes wild … It’s a place I wanted to be able to take [my 2-year-old daughter] someday.”

While the community has other theaters, like the Queens Theatre and Flushing Town Hall, RKO Keith’s seating capacity far exceeds the others, Thornhill noted.

The Forest Hills resident is hopeful that the petition will make a difference.

“I hope it shows the real estate company that’s planning on making it into condos that there are people who love this theater,” he said. “People not only love their history, but they need the cultural aspect of it, too.”

A number of signers have left sentimental notes in the comment section of the petition.

“Flushing was my hometown in New York for many years and return regularly to visit friends and family,” wrote John Mark. “The vibrancy of Flushing has only continued and the RKO Keith should continue to thrive with the community. It would be a great disservice otherwise!”

The petition is slated to be sent to Xinyuan Real Estate, NYC Landmarks, Mayor Bill de Blasio and other local electeds and can be viewed by clicking here.

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