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May 27th, 2008

SAVE THE PROVINCETOWN PLAYHOUSE: 5/28/8 @ 6:30PM.

by Andrew Berman

Community Board #2 Institutions Committee
Public Hearing on NYU’s Plans for the Provincetown Playhouse and Apartments, 133-139 MacDougal Street
Wednesday, May 28th
6:30 pm
(Note new location:) NYU Law School Vanderbilt Hall
40 Washington Sq. So. (at MacDougal Street), Greenberg Lounge

After initially proposing to demolish the entire building at 133-139 MacDougal Street, NYU has since modified their plans to demolish the building while retaining the four walls and entryway facade of the Provincetown Playhouse theater, which consists of the first floor of the southern fourth of the building. Thus NYU’s current commitment is to preserve about 1/16th, or 6%, of the facade and volume of the existing building.

This is an important step in the right direction, and GVSHP is pleased that NYU has now recognized that the Provincetown Playhouse Theater is a remarkably important part of our city and country’s history, and must be preserved. This change in plans is an important victory for efforts to preserve our neighborhood and our city’s history and cultural legacy.

However, NYU’s latest plan not only leaves many important questions unanswered, but still entails demolition of the remainder of the building, which is also of exceptional cultural and historic significance. Therefore GVSHP has urged NYU to make clear, concrete commitments as to how the theater will be physically preserved, and how the permanent use of the space as a theater will be guaranteed. We have also urged that NYU try to preserve and re-use as much of the existing building as possible.

Why is the rest of the building important? The buildings comprising the Provincetown Playhouse and Apartments at 133-139 MacDougal Street have been called “the cornerstone of bohemia,” “the heart of cultural life of the Village,” and “the center of much of the resurgence and renaissance associated with Greenwich Village” by scholars and historians. In addition to the current Provincetown Playhouse theater occupying the ground floor of #133 MacDougal since 1918, the original Provincetown Playhouse was located at #139 at the north end of the building, the apartments above attracted cultural icons such as Bernice Abbott, Eli Wallach, Anne Jackson, and Dorothy Gillespie as residents, and #135 and 137 housed the Liberal Club, the Washington Square Bookstore, the Heterodoxy Club, and Polly’s Restaurant — which collectively formed the epicenter of Village’s cultural, political, and intellectual renaissance of the early 20th century that transformed the world.

Additionally, NYU has agreed to a set of “planning principles” that are supposed to guide NYU development over the next 25 years, and which call upon the university to “prioritize re-use before new development.” If this interpreted to allow NYU to demolish one of the most important historic and cultural sites in our neighborhood, we are concerned that this hard-fought-for provision will have little or no efficacy. Also, NYU has pledged to support designation of the proposed South Village Historic District, of which this building and its history is a critical part.

WHAT CAN YOU DO?: Come to the hearing on the 28th and let NYU and the Community Board know that you want to see concrete agreements regarding the preservation and restoration of the Provincetown Playhouse Theater space and the theater use, and that you believe that as much as possible of the existing building should be preserved.

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