Board OKs NYU plan to demo buildings around Provincetown Playhouse

TRD New York /
Jun.June 20, 2008 01:51 PM

Community Board 2 has voted in favor of New York University’s plan to preserve the Provincetown Playhouse theater but demolish the building’s surrounding structures.

The university wants to demolish the offices and apartments at 133-139 MacDougal Street, which the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation deemed eligible for historic preservation this week. NYU has plans for a new building with two extra floors to be used by its School of Law.

The full community board voted to support the plan yesterday in a 37-1 vote, with two abstentions, according to District Manager Bob Gormley. The board’s Institutions Committee voted in favor of the plan on May 28.

Originally, NYU planned to demolish the entire site, but agreed to preserve the theater’s walls and facade in May after the plan drew protests. NYU restored the theater in 1998 after it was closed for several years.

The building, originally four separate townhouses, was combined in the early 1940s. In 1916, the Provincetown Players, including playwright Eugene O’Neill, called 139 MacDougal Street home, and two years later moved three houses down to its current home at 133 MacDougal. The Players, famous for experimental theater, book-ended the four houses with fellow radicals living in between them.
In the early 1900s, the Washington Square Bookshop promoted modern literature at 135 MacDougal. Next door at 137 Macdougal stood the Liberal Club, the self-proclaimed “Meeting Place for Those Interested in New Ideas,” whose famous members included Theodore Dreiser, Upton Sinclair and Margaret Sanger.
“The three institutions were all interconnected physically and functionally,” said Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. “All served as a breathing ground for the cutting edge political, social and cultural ideas.”
NYU says it must demolish the building because the existing structure cannot support two extra floors. The school had agreed to follow the community board’s decision, and is expected to move ahead with its plans.
Alicia Hurley, NYU’s vice president for government relations and community engagement, said in a statement that the vote “affirms that our proposal is respectful of the cultural history of the Playhouse; offers a design that is contextual to the neighborhood; and provides a framework that will allow the Provincetown Playhouse to thrive and serve as an artistic training ground for the decades to come.”

“Unfortunately there seem to be a little too much eagerness to accommodate NYU at the expense of our neighborhood’s history and character,” Berman said. “There’s no reason why NYU could not have reused the existing building but unfortunately the community board supported the demolition plan.”

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