NYU Razes Most of Eugene O'Neill's Provincetown Playhouse

Provincetown
Eugene O'Neill founded Greenwich Village's Provincetown Players, which opened the Provincetown Playhouse in 1916. The building was altered so many times that it is not eligible for city landmark status.

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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Comments

Submitted by Peter at: October 7, 2009
So many of us who had history with the Provincetown Playhouse had written to NYU protesting, asking, begging, pleading for attention to be paid to a major part of American Theatrical History, are in mourning over this turn of affairs. Eugene O'Neill wasn't the only "Great" whose past has been disturbed by NYU's actions. Edna St. Vincent Millay, Susan Glaspell, Floyd Dell and too many others to recount in a comment had years invested in this place. Opera singer/impresario Marguerite Ruffino and many musical artists who started their careers in this building are also caught in this mess. It's a disgrace.

Submitted by ProGuide at: October 6, 2009
Alas, the original Provincetown Playhouse -- a stable turned into a theatre -- was lost decades ago when the now-famous wall was incorporated into a modern theatre built as part of an apartment building on the site. Little more than the legendary name was preserved. Frankly, it's the great drama produced there, not one unremarkable brick wall, that gives the site historic significance. Fortunately, an adjacent row of 1840's townhouses survives to give us at least a small taste of the Village of O'Neill, Millay, Joyce, and other famous bohemians.

Submitted by ArtMuser at: October 6, 2009
I am appalled by NYU's record of dishonesty on preservation issues. Nothing from the past 30 years suggests anything other than land greed. The city and elected officials should simply no longer believe this 'august' institution (my alma mater, as it happens) when it makes a promise regarding any preservation question. Land and space greed clearly prevails: planners should stop being so naive where NYU is concerned!

Submitted by Puzzled at: September 16, 2009
I see a lot of preservations speaking up and speaking out against projects...but their cries seem to go unanswered. Land owners want to make the most profit from their projects, construction and land. This shouldn't be a shock as there is no question we are a money driven society. I however am reaching out and looking for answers as what we can do as individuals and as members of historical societies to preserve our historic buildings and past. I myself am faced with the monumental task of saving a historic building, unfortunately I don't have the monetary resources to do it alone. Any ideas??

Submitted by Brian at: September 15, 2009
There's a great deal of information about preservation efforts of this building online if you look for it, including videos of the people involved.

Submitted by At-a-loss-again at: September 15, 2009
Sheer arrogance on NYU's part. Rep. Steven W Lindsey Keene, NH