Volume 74, Number 33 | December 22 - 28, 2004

Suspicions that theater’s next role will be a dorm

By Hemmy So

Neighbors of the Variety Arts Theater fear it will be sold and developed into a New York University dormitory. However, the building that housed Variety Arts Theater on Third Ave. from 1991 until two months ago is still on the market. The building owner, 110-112 Third Avenue Realty Corporation, put the building up for sale after the theater closed its doors in October.

A source at the realty company who declined to give his name said that while the building has not yet been sold, the company has entered negotiations with a sizeable developer for the building’s sale.

“We’re in the middle of negotiation right now for the building, but nothing’s happened yet. There are no specifics. Everything is up in the air,” he said.

Some community members have expressed concern over the site’s future, particularly in light of the recent construction of high-rise New York University dormitories in that area. The Palladium Residence Hall on E. 14th St. between Third and Fourth Aves. opened in the fall of 2001 after N.Y.U. demolished the Palladium nightclub to construct the dormitory. Built and owned by a private developer, Coral Towers on the corner of E. 14th St. and Third Ave. opened in 2000, with N.Y.U. as a long-term tenant. Prior to that, N.Y.U. built its University Hall also on E. 14th St. between Third and Fourth Aves., on the site of the old Luchow’s restaurant. Together, the three university residences house about 1,900 students.

But the source at 110-112 Third Avenue Realty vehemently denied some neighbors’ suspicion that an N.Y.U. dorm would be built on that property. “I haven’t heard anything along those lines,” the source emphasized.

Other community members have bemoaned the loss of an historic theater. In late October, the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation requested that the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission consider designating the building a historic landmark. In his letter to the Commission, G.V.S.H.P. Executive Director Andrew Berman cited Variety Theater’s role as one of the earliest cinemas and nickelodeons in the city.

“The theater should also be viewed in the context of the enormously important role this area played as the home to legitimate, popular and ethnic theater in the late 19th and early 20th centuries,” Berman wrote.

Earlier this month, Berman and State Senator Tom Duane put together a working group of theater activists and community leaders to discuss the decline of theaters in the city. “We all agreed that escalating real estate values clearly are the biggest culprit here,” Berman said. During the ’90s and early 2000s, Variety Arts Theater housed a number of off-Broadway shows including Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Dinner With Friends” and the hit show “Death Defying Acts,” a series of one-act plays. The short-lived musical “The Joys of Sex” was the last theatrical production.

Asked if N.Y.U. had any interest in the property, university spokesperson John Beckman said, “We’ve had no conversation about this. Nobody has approached us about this. I’m not going to get into these hypotheticals. I think we need to get out of the habit of, every time a piece of property changes hands in the neighborhood,” assuming N.Y.U. is involved, Beckman said. “When N.Y.U. is having serious discussions about acquiring or leasing a property, we inform the community,” he continued. “And that’s how it’s been and that’s how it’s going to be going forward.”

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