Volume 78 / Number 21 - October 22 - 28, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Villager photo by Caroline Debevec

Preservationists, neighbors and theater lovers on Monday protested N.Y.U.’s plans to demolish the historic Provincetown Apartments on MacDougal St.

The wreckers cometh, Playhouse pro-preservers fear

By Lincoln Anderson

The Greenwich Village Society for Preservation, the Historic Districts Council and dozens of Village residents came together on Monday outside the Provincetown Playhouse and Apartments on MacDougal St. to protest New York University’s impending demolition of most of the historic structure to construct a new Law School building.

N.Y.U. has agreed to preserve the Playhouse itself, which occupies about 6 percent of the existing building’s space, and is where playwright Eugene O’Neill, author of “The Iceman Cometh” and “Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” staged his plays.

The four, 175-year-old buildings, which are unified by a common facade, were ruled eligible for listing on the State and National Register of Historic Places. N.Y.U. has boarded up the windows and erected a scaffolding in preparation for demolition. The new building will not appear significantly larger than what is there now when viewed from street level.

Among the speakers at Monday’s protest were Emmy Award-winning writer/producer Tom Fontana and actor Tandy Cronyn, daughter of Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy. The entire structure has a rich cultural history in its own right and should not be razed, preservationists and neighbors said.

The project’s critics note N.Y.U.’s new planning principles include a pledge to reuse rather than rebuild, and that the existing building is within the proposed South Village Historic District, which the university pledged to support.

“N.Y.U. continues to break its promises to its neighbors and continues to destroy that which we hold dear about our neighborhood,” said Andrew Berman, G.V.S.H.P. director. “N.Y.U. needs to learn to live within its means and to respect the limits of the urban environment around it. If N.Y.U.’s voracious appetite cannot be reigned in, we fear that soon there will be nothing left of our neighborhood.”

Said Simeon Bankoff, H.D.C. executive director: “Building by building, N.Y.U. is consuming the history and character of the South Village. First the Poe and Judson houses were demolished for N.Y.U.’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.”

Alicia Hurley, N.Y.U. vice president for government relations and community engagement, countered the protesters’ accusations.

“This was a project that went through an amazing amount of scrutiny and community review, and we felt that we had a project that was in line with the university’s planning principles,” she said. “And, at the end of an extensive community review, the community board — which, last time I checked, speaks for the community — voted nearly unanimously in favor of a project that they saw in front of them that left F.A.R. [development rights] on the table, was contextual in design and preserved the culturally important aspect of the building, which is the Provincetown Playhouse, which will work as a working theater for years to come.”

As for why N.Y.U. chose not to renovate the entire structure, Hurley said, “It was a building that, at the end of the day, didn’t work for us.” She denied N.Y.U.’s project would jeopardize future designation of a South Village Historic District, adding, “The onus is on someone else to prove that it does. We all agreed from the outset, that it is a very important cultural building — and we are restoring the aspect of it that was culturally significant.”

As for comparisons to the Poe House — whose facade wasn’t rebuilt with its original bricks, but with new materials, as part of N.Y.U.’s new Law School project on W. Third St. — Hurley replied, “There weren’t enough bricks.”

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