NYU To Raze Historic Theater
By Margaret Foster | Online Only | May 1, 2008
Dozens of actors and playwrights have joined the uproar over New York University's plan to demolish the theater where Eugene O'Neill's plays debuted.
Yesterday the university, which has owned the Provincetown Playhouse since 1984, issued a statement defending its proposal to retain only the facade of the Greenwich Village building.
In a letter to university President John Sexton today, more than 70 theater advocates said the demolition "would be seen as an abrogation of NYU's commitment to 'prioritize re-use before redevelopment.'"
Preservationists scoff at NYU's plan to reconstruct the theater itself in the new seven-story building, which its law school will occupy.
"The notion of demolishing only to 're-molish' it or reconstruct it is the worst kind of idea," says Simeon Bankoff, executive director of the Historic Resources Council. "It destroys an actual historic resource and substitutes something that's fake. It's Disney-fying the Village."
The Provincetown Playhouse opened in 1916 and relocated nearby in 1941, when workers combined two buildings and added the current facade in a renovation that may have ruined its chances of being landmarked.
That building has been altered so much that it "now bears no resemblance to its earlier appearance," Lisi Bourbon, spokeswoman for the New York City Landmarks Commission, said in a statement this week. After an evaluation four years ago, the commission "determined the building lacks the historical and architectural integrity required for individual New York City landmark designation."
Preservationists are concerned that the loss of the theater will affect their nomination to designate the South Village Historic District.
"If the building were demolished, it would clearly denigrate the fabric of the South Village," says Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. "Even if we are still able to get the district designated, if you lose key pieces of it along the way, what's the value of the historic district?"
NYU says the new building will be compatible within a new historic district. "The proposed building preserves the cultural aspects of the site and the sensitive, low-scale design is very much in keeping with the principles of historic districts," it said in yesterday's statement.
Critics say NYU doesn't have a positive track record in preservation, citing its 2001 demolition of the brick house where Edgar Allen Poe lived in 1844-45. "They destroyed the Poe House for the law school already," says Bankoff, whose group sued the university to prevent the loss of the Poe House—and lost. "How many more landmarks need to get sacrificed?"
A public meeting about the Provincetown Playhouse is scheduled for May 28.
Write to the university: http://www.nyu.edu/nyu.plans.2031/comments/.
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