Volume 77 / Number 50 - May 14 - 20, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since


Provincetown project’s now about preservation

Passions are running high over New York University’s plan to demolish four joined 1840s buildings on MacDougal St. between W. Fourth and Third Sts., the southernmost of which contains the Provincetown Playhouse on its ground floor.

An earlier plan by N.Y.U.’s School of Law called for a new academic building of 53,222 square feet. The university thought better, scaling back the project to 44,362 square feet. While this new building would be 17,000 square feet larger than the existing buildings, the increase would hardly be noticeable. Although the new building would be just several feet taller than what’s there now, N.Y.U., by decreasing ceiling heights, would squeeze in a new floor, accounting for the added square footage.

Very notable, though, is that N.Y.U, in a first, would leave floor area ratio, or F.A.R., on the table by voluntarily not building as big as it could.

The new building, we feel, would be an aesthetic improvement. The 1940 renovation that added a unifying brick exterior over the four buildings is generally seen as unattractive. N.Y.U.’s treatment, by architect Morris Adjmi, would see a new exterior evoking the original look of the four separate buildings.

Adjmi designed the successful new Theory building on Gansevoort St. in the Meat Market — a building respectful of its surroundings, yet also clean and contemporary.

The Landmarks Preservation Commission deemed 133-139 MacDougal St. unfit for landmarking, mainly due to the buildings’ multiple renovations over the years. The theater’s interior also has been extensively rebuilt.

N.Y.U.’s position on the Provincetown Playhouse has certainly evolved. First, the university said it would “rebuild” it. Now, N.Y.U. increasingly is talking about preservation. The intention isn’t to bring back the benches from when Eugene O’Neill’s “The Hairy Ape” debuted. But the 130 existing seats believed to date from the theater’s 1940 renovation might be restored. The stage, raised for a large air-conditioning vent in the 1990s, would be lowered to its mid-20th-century height, while the seats’ awkward raking would be fixed.

The Playhouse is used seven days a week by N.Y.U. teaching programs and other school groups; in August and January, it hosts the Eugene O’Neill Festival.

As the plan’s details have been fleshed out, the festival’s director and others are coming out behind the project. In essence, a well-functioning Provincetown Playhouse would be the best legacy to its history and O’Neill.

The theater’s treatment, if done as Adjmi and N.Y.U. describe, we believe, would fit in with the planning principles agreed to between N.Y.U. President John Sexton and Borough President Scott Stringer. A preserved, restored Provincetown Playhouse would be the opposite of five years ago, when N.Y.U. Law School promised the Poe House’s facade on W. Third St. would be preserved and rebuilt, only to demolish everything, while merely erecting a modern facsimile facade.

This time, we think N.Y.U. will get it right.

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