Sullivan Street, including Sullivan Street Playhouse
In the 1830’s, the entire east side of this street (known as Varick Place until the mid-20th Century) had a row of handsome Greek Revival rowhouses, of which 181 (the Sullivan Street Playhouse) and 179 (the American Legion Club, in green) were the best surviving vestiges. 179 is in fact largely intact, while 181 was remodeled significantly with its stoop removed and a theater inserted inside in 1958. Prior to its conversion to a theater, long-time Village residents report that the building was home to a nightclub and speakeasy operated by Jimmy Kelley, a long-time Greenwich Village Democratic Party boss. The grand proportions visible on 179 speak to the wealth of the neighborhood in the mid-19th century, which had changed drastically by the late 19th century and through most of the 20th.
Adaptive re-use of a building for theater use, such as at the Sullivan Street Playhouse, was typical of the South Village. The Sullivan Street Playhouse became famous as home to New York’s (and, by reputation, the world’s) longest running play, "The Fantasticks," which was performed here continuously for more than 40 years until 2002. In 2002 the theater went dark, and in 2005, over GVSHP’s protests, the original building was radically altered and converted to today’s glass-fronted luxury condos. Loss of theaters remains one of the most vexing historic preservation problems in the South Village (CLICK HERE and HERE for more information).
Two doors down at 177 a new building has been constructed (shrouded and under construction in this picture). Without historic district designation, there is no way to prevent the loss of historic structures, or to ensure that new construction is compatible in design with its surroundings.
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