Curbed directed us to a travesty in the Village today, albeit an unsurprising one. It appears NYU, in constructing a new building for the law school, damaged the shell of the Provincetown Playhouse, which it had promised to preserve. We say this is unsurprising because, as we recall and Andrew Berman of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation again confirmed, this is precisely what preservationists feared would happen.
You see, a lot of people assume, that like the rest of Greenwich Village, that NYU’s Washington Square Park campus is also landmarked, and therefore protected from overdevelopment, especially from the at-times over-zealous educator. Trying to improve its image and community relations, however, the school sometimes agrees to preserve buildings it technically would have to, though with little oversite. In the case of the Provincetown theater, which we covered last June, NYU declined to save the entire building on MacDougal Street—it’s being replaced by Morris Adjmi—but they would retain the shell of the Provincetown Playhouse, the launchpad for Eugene O’Neill and Off Broadway theater.
Berman and other preservationists were suspicious of the deal, however, because a similar one had been cut at the start of the decade, when NYU promised to save the facade of Edgar Allan Poe’s home on nearby West Third Street as part of another law school building, Furman Hall. After a long court battle to save the building, with such bigs as E.L. Doctorow and Lou Reed weighing in, NYU was told it could demolish the “non-contributing” building, but it agreed to incorporate pieces of the original into the new building. But just as happened earlier this month at the Provincetown, the Poe house was damaged during construction, and had to be replicated from scratch. Berman, in an email, called it “classic NYU:”
This is exactly what happened with the Poe House, and it’s classic NYU. I have some pictures from the early stages of their doing this (see attached—I don’t know if they’ve done more since then). There is no recourse with LPC because the building is not landmarked (the city refused to). Our hope is that this will make city and local elected officials take a closer look at NYU and their lack of honesty and willingness to abide by their own commitments, and in the future will not support such plans as happened in this case.
NYU told The Villager the damaged wall “was found to be made partly of rubble and unstable.” The school says it has put construction on the south side of the building on hold—it will continue on the north side—while a report is prepared. Among other unsurprising surprises is that NYU did not know about the damage until last week, weeks after the damage was done, as though preserving that wall were somehow not one of the prime directives for the contractors on the site. Apparently, NYU’s priorities remain their own and no one else’s.