Volume 77 / Number 48 - April 30 - May 6, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since

Letters to the editor

O’Neill lives on MacDougal

To The Editor:
Re “N.Y.U. would drop curtain on O’Neill’s Playhouse” (news article, April 29):

I’m writing to you as a dedicated Eugene O’Neill scholar and longtime member of the Eugene O’Neill Society — and as a humble fan. The Provincetown Playhouse is one of few true landmarks in the history of modern American theater, the crucible for the talents of the 20th century’s greatest American playwright. The theater deserves to stand, not only as a monument and museum to O’Neill’s achievements but also as a living and working theater for playwrights yet to come.

I have seen a half-dozen plays performed in the Playhouse on Macdougal St. Yes, the productions were limited because of space, and economical in terms of costumes, props and sets. But for me, the experience was exhilarating and inspiring: I felt as if I were sitting in O’Neill’s own seat, channeling his very ghost.

New York has thousands of office buildings topped with penthouses but only one Provincetown Playhouse. Please do everything possible to save this historic landmark.
Richard Compson Sater

Playhouse played key role

To The Editor:
Re “N.Y.U. would drop curtain on O’Neill’s Playhouse” (news article, April 29):

I am shocked to hear that New York University is planning to demolish the building at 133-139 Macdougal St., which includes two of the most significant Greenwich Village historic and cultural sites, the Provincetown Playhouse and the Liberal Club, both central to the Village’s Little Renaissance just prior to World War I, which began the whole era of Modernism in American art and culture.

The Provincetown not only nurtured O’Neill, our first globally significant playwright and the only American playwright to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, but as the home of both the Provincetown Players and the Experimental Theatre, Inc., it and the Liberal Club were the meeting places where an extraordinary collection of writers, artists and other significant cultural figures, such as Charles Demuth, William Carlos Williams, Susan Glaspell, Djuna Barnes, Edna St. Vincent Millay, John Reed, Theodore Dreiser, Marsden Hartley, Sinclair Lewis, Upton Sinclair, e. e. cummings, Edmund Wilson, Max Eastman and Lincoln Steffens, gathered and collaborated. In the effort to preserve this important piece of Greenwich Village and American culture, N.Y.U. has been in the lead. It would be a shame for the university to abandon it now.

I’m planning to pass the link to The Villager’s article on to some groups that will be very concerned to hear of the building’s demise, such as the Eugene O’Neill Society, the Susan Glaspell Society and the Modernist Studies Association.
Brenda Murphy
Murphy is a board of trustees member and distinguished professor of English at the University of Connecticut

Theater demo would be tragic

To The Editor:
Re “N.Y.U. would drop curtain on O’Neill’s Playhouse” (news article, April 29):

The proposal New York University is contemplating to demolish the historic Provincetown Playhouse would be a tragic mistake for the university and for the neighborhood.

The Provincetown Playhouse is one of the most iconic historic sites in all the Village. It is known throughout the country and world for the critical role it has played in the history of the Off-Broadway and alternative theater movement. It is a landmark in every sense of the word except official designation, although the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation and many others have been seeking to remedy that through our proposed South Village Historic District, which includes the site. Last year N.Y.U. agreed to support the designation of the proposed South Village Historic District; demolition of one of its key historic sites would not only damage the proposed district’s chances of full adoption, but damage the university’s reputation for keeping its word.

When N.Y.U. recently signed the planning principles with members of the Borough President’s N.Y.U. Community Task Force, including G.V.S.H.P., it agreed to “prioritize reuse before new development,” a principle that could not more clearly apply here. This is actually the first new project N.Y.U. is proposing under the commitments it made in the planning principles; so, how the university does or does not adhere to the commitments it made will have a huge impact upon how this process is viewed.

By N.Y.U.’s own admission, its proposed new building is somewhat but not much bigger than the current Provincetown Playhouse building. So why demolish at all? N.Y.U. claims this old building (the underlying historic structure is nearly 200 years old) cannot support the kinds of uses it wishes to put in there. They have not substantiated that claim, but let’s assume for a moment that they are correct. The building currently houses a theater, offices and residences — uses which it can clearly continue to house, and all uses which N.Y.U. needs. Therefore, any decision to demolish the building because it is not suited to N.Y.U.’s “needs” is not really one of necessity, but actually one of choice.

Further, N.Y.U. claims that because the facade of the building was altered almost 70 years ago, it is no longer a historic building worthy of preservation. Yet, in the 1990s, when N.Y.U. began a renovation of the building (with the same historic facade), it proudly trumpeted the building’s history and its pride to posses this great piece of local and national history. Now, the university is choosing the “Poe House” method of historic preservation — demolish a beloved piece of the neighborhood’s history, and then try to make up for it by tacking a piece or a facsimile of it onto the new building. As we’ve seen, this approach just does not work.

N.Y.U. clearly wants credit for considering a building on this site that is neither as big nor as insensitive in its design as it could be or as many recent N.Y.U. buildings have been. But the loss of a treasured piece of the neighborhood’s history is the price we would have to pay, while the alternative G.V.S.H.P. has been urging — a sensitive reuse or renovation of the building, as the planning principles N.Y.U. agreed to seem to call for — would still allow the university to make very productive use of its property.

Hopefully, N.Y.U. will see the light. I strongly urge anyone who is interested to come to the Community Board 2 Institutions Committee hearing on the issue on Wed., May 28, at 6:30 p.m. at The Caring Community, 20 Washington Square North, to help make the case.
 Andrew Berman
Berman is executive director, Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation

Artists’ angst uncalled for

To The Editor:
Re “Gerson hawks his vendors bill but artists paint a grim picture” (news article, April 9):

Please be assured that our proposed vending legislation will in no way create any extra fees or charges for vendors, nor will it decrease the number of legal vendors. Our goal is to make enforcement against illegal vendors easier and more direct and to create a mechanism for mitigating congestion of vendors where sidewalk access and mobility have become serious issues.

It is amazing how many letters your page has printed about a proposal yet to be completed, let alone released. It is a shame that in our efforts to solicit input from residents, vendors and all concerned with this issue that erroneous reports have cropped up about a plan that has yet to be drafted. Councilmember Gerson is a First Amendment scholar with a proven record of support for free speech and the arts. Any plan we release will be consistent with the councilmember’s longstanding commitment to the First Amendment.
Peter Z. Pastor
Pastor is Councilmember Alan Gerson’s director of legislation

U.S.C.C. unravels

To The Editor:
Re “Union Square rehab on hold after opponents file lawsuit” (news article, April 23):

The naysayers who’ve filed suit against the reconstruction of the north end of Union Square now have their day in court. Hopefully, the kids will win this round by having the judge invalidate the stop-work order.

I was co-chairperson of Union Square Community Coalition along with Gail Fox for many years before these naysayers took over and made U.S.C.C. into an organization whose sole purpose was to be against something: a cafe in the park. Gail and I spent years building U.S.C.C. back up to be a well-respected group of neighborhood advocates, only to see our positive contributions to the community all but wiped out by this negative force. Where were these supposed child advocates when it was time to hold U.S.C.C.’s annual children’s carnival, an event that occurred annually for at least 20 years until they took over? And what about planting days or doing fundraising to help pay for a playground associate, shade umbrellas and picnic tables for the playground?

As far as I’m concerned, these people have done zero for the neighborhood since they joined U.S.C.C. I’ve always been puzzled that since they’re so up in arms about a commercial establishment on park property, they don’t they rise up against the vendors who’ve completely taken over the square’s south end. Is that not commercialization? Ironic that the vendors complained that they were displaced from their prime spots due to the construction. Aren’t some of these people selling mass-produced items, whose connection with First Amendment rights are tentative at best, using park property to make a buck themselves? At least the cafe will return money to the city and to our park.

In a perfect world, the city coffers would pay for all of the park’s upkeep and amenities. But in the real world, there are many public/private partnerships which now, more than ever, are increasingly necessary. Think of Central Park or Madison Square Park without their public/private partnerships. So U.S.C.C. is now standing by its unshakable principle: no privatization of public space. Meanwhile, the proposed beautiful new playground remains unbuilt. Is that benefiting the children they care so much about?

Take a closer look at U.S.C.C.’s board. I don’t believe one of them has school-age children. These people have sat in meetings saying how we don’t need a new restroom facility and certainly not a dedicated family one. I’d like to know how many times in the last 10 years these people have taken a small child into the pavilion bathroom, stepping over drug addicts washing in the sink. If they really spoke to parents, as I have, they would know that a dedicated family restroom is not only convenient, but since it’s adjacent to an extremely busy transportation hub, a big safety issue.

Now ask where Geoffrey Croft fits in. He doesn’t even live anywhere near the Union Square area, but on the Upper East Side. He comes down here to rabble-rouse with the U.S.C.C. naysayers. I would like to know how many people in the Union Square area are represented by his “group.” I don’t know where he gets the idea that the pavilion’s interior is somehow well-suited for children’s play; and it’s certainly not even as large a space as he claims.

Carol Greitzer goes on to say that the restaurant is going to be “expensive.” One of the things that Gail Fox and I advocated for when we were with U.S.C.C. was to make sure that the request for proposals for the restaurant includes moderately priced fare; so, I believe Greitzer’s mistaken on that point. Greitzer also said in The Villager article that “schools...don’t pay for themselves. They’re funded by the city: they’re necessary.” True, but only to an extent. If Ms. Greitzer had children in public schools today, she’d get a list the first day that asked for pencils, paper, soap and paper towels. Next she’d get a flier about a fundraiser to help pay for the art, music and dance programs. No, Ms. Greitzer, the city does not pay for a great deal of what is necessary in schools. Does that mean I should stand on principle and not bring pencils to school?

The cafe has been in the park for about 14 years and I’ve never, ever, heard a complaint about it except from this U.S.C.C. board. In my opinion, it has been a very positive presence in the park. I find nothing wrong with being able to sit smack in the middle of Union Square enjoying the lively scene taking place within, whether I’m sitting among those folks or just walking through. Most of my playground friends like having the restaurant there, especially since it is so close to the playground. It’s an entirely different thing to be sitting at a cafe on the sidewalk than it is to be sitting at one inside the park, so I don’t see the need to count and compare those.
Susan Kramer

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