October 20, 2008 - For Immediate Release
Neighbors and Preservationists Protest NYU’s Planned Demolition
of the Historic Provincetown Playhouse and Apartments in Greenwich Village
Revered 175 Year Old Buildings Were Ruled Eligible for the State and National Register of Historic Places
Manhattan — The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP), the Historic Districts Council (HDC), and dozens of Village residents and preservationists demonstrated today in front of the Provincetown Playhouse and Apartments at 133-139 MacDougal Street to protest NYU’s impending demolition of this singularly important historic building (photos available upon request). NYU has boarded up the windows and erected a scaffolding to prepare the building for demolition; the university has applied for, but not yet received, demolition permits from the City. GVSHP has asked the City to landmark the building and the surrounding neighborhood, which would prevent demolition. Speakers at today’s rally included GVSHP Executive Director Andrew Berman, HDC Executive Director Simeon Bankoff, Emmy-Award wimnning writer/producer Tom Fontana, performance artist Revered Billy Tallen, former CB 2 Landmarks Committee Chair and South Village Advisory Board Member Jonathan Geballe, and actor Tandy Cronyn, daughter of Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy.
This past spring, NYU proposed to demolish this entire building; after a huge public outcry, NYU agreed to preserve 6% of the building, the area containing the small theater in the southern corner of the building. The remaining 94% of the building is to be demolished to make way for a new NYU Law School.
However, this entire building dates to the 1830s and is considered by scholars and historians to be a cornerstone of the cultural history of Greenwich Village. The building housed many of the most important cultural institutions of the 20th century, including two incarnations of the Provincetown Playhouse Theater, the Liberal Club, the Washington Square Bookstore, the Heterodoxy Club, and Polly’s Restaurant. These interconnected entities occupied the lower half of the building, and served as home base for Eugene O'Neill, William Carlos Williams, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Theodore Dreiser, Sinclair Lewis, Upton Sinclair, E.E. Cummings, and Max Eastman, among many others. The apartments upstairs housed many prominent cultural luminaries over the years, including photographer Berenice Abbott and actors Eli Wallach and Anne Jackson.
The NY State Historic Preservation Office has ruled the Provincetown Playhouse and Apartments eligible for the State and National Register of Historic Places due to its exceptional history.
Protestors also objected to NYU’s plan to demolish 94% of the building because the university had signed an agreement earlier this year in which it promised to “prioritize…re-use before new development” as part of its new 25-year plan. As the first project under this agreement, many felt that NYU’s plan to first demolish 100% of this building, and then to demolish 94% of it, violated this agreement.
NYU also violated its agreement to support the designation of a proposed South Village Historic District, currently under review by the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission, which would have included the Provincetown Playhouse and Apartments as a key feature.
Protestors also expressed skepticism about NYU’s pledge to preserve the 6% of the building which currently contains the small theater space. Just a few years earlier NYU made a similar pledge to preserve the Edgar Allan Poe House just around the corner, which it had originally planned to demolish for another new Law School building, but changed its plans after public protests and a lawsuit. However the final result — where the Poe House was in fact demolished and a facsimile was built a few yards away and inserted into the base of the gigantic new building – was deemed unacceptable by many parties to the original agreement with NYU, such as the Historic Districts Council.
Finally, demonstrators called attention to the fact that NYU’s demolition plan for the Provincetown Playhouse and Apartments is the leading edge of the university’s plan to add between 3 and 3.6 million sq. ft. of new space to the Village in the next 23 years. This is a near-doubling of NYU’s already breakneck rate of growth, with the amount of space they are contemplating adding to the Village the equivalent of twenty more of their recently completed 26-story dorm on East 12th Street.
“NYU continues to break its promises to its neighbors and continues to destroy that which we hold dear about our neighborhood. NYU needs to learn to live within its means and to respect the limits of the urban environment around it. If NYU’s voracious appetite cannot be reigned in, we fear that soon there will be nothing left of our neighborhood,” said GVSHP Executive Director Andrew Berman.
“Building by building, NYU is consuming the history and character of the South Village. First the Poe and Judson Houses were demolished for NYU’s law school and now the Provincetown Playhouse will be too. This is an assault on the cultural history and spirit of the Village and unless this destructive growth is stopped soon, all that will be left of this neighborhood will be photographs and fading memories,” said Simeon Bankoff, Executive Director of the Historic Districts Council.