NYU Razes Most of Eugene O'Neill's Provincetown Playhouse
By Margaret Foster | Online Only | Sept. 15, 2009
New York University last month demolished more of a 1916 theater than it had pledged to preserve.
Last year the university promised to retain the four original theater walls of the Provincetown Playhouse, a Eugene O'Neill venue, after an earlier, more comprehensive demolition plan prompted outrage and opposition.
In August, however, the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation learned that workers had gone ahead and removed a 46-foot portion of the 89-foot-long north wall.
"There's a very long line of broken NYU promises," says Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. He points to the 1998 loss of the Palladium night club for a dormitory and the 2001 demolition of the Edgar Allan Poe house, whose facade NYU had promised to save.
NYU spokeswoman Alicia Hurley says that safety concerns led the construction crew to remove part of the old brick wall. She points out that only 12 percent of the entire wall area was removed, or 765 square feet of the 6,370-square-foot brick shell.
"The condition of the portion of the northern wall that was supported by rubble and mortar, made the … work not only hazardous to those working on the site but could have led to a collapse," Hurley said in an e-mail.
Berman counters that the brick shell would have been structurally sound had workers not razed almost all of the building. His group hopes to appeal to local officials to be wary of the university's plans to expand its campus by more than three million square feet.
"The most important next step for us is to emphasize to elected officials that this is a systemic, unchanging, ongoing problem with NYU. What we must focus on is the commitment that NYU made to look for locations outside the Village for future expansions and to prioritize preservation over demolition," Berman says. "My hope is that for the future, the local elected officials will learn from this and approach NYU's promises with a more skeptical eye."
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