The historic – but not landmarked – Provincetown Playhouse in Greenwich Village could be the next building to make way for NYU’s ongoing expansion, which will devour six million square feet of space in New York in the next 25 years, if all goes according to plan. The theater is widely regarded as the birthplace of 'Off Broadway.'
The local community board is open to NYU’s proposal (see renderings here), but some preservationists are trying to save the theater, where Edward Albee’s Zoo Story premiered in 1959. Located on the site of a former stable and bottling plant, it was used as a theater in 1918 by the legendary Provincetown Players, whose members included Eugene O’Neill. In the ‘40s, the four buildings at the site were turned into one theater, which the university purchased in 1984, using the upper stories for offices and housing until reopening the theater in '98.
Their proposed bigger building would be used for the School of Law and include a state of the art theater. Morris Adjmi, the architect for the project, tells the Times the current building has no “architectural merit.” But theater blogger The Playgoer argues against the rush to replace it with something slicker:
To me these lacking qualities almost make it more urgent that we preserve it. To step inside this humble, cozy 170-seater, and to realize that The Emperor Jones was originally staged here – on this tiny stage! – is to be reminded how down to earth and basic much of our great theatre has always been. As unimpressive as the old house is to some, it still can inspire future generations, though its living historical memory.
And Andrew Berman of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation says the demolition “is going to create an enormous rift between the university and the surrounding community, preservationists, theater lovers, that I’m not sure how easy it will ever be to repair.”