What is up with Community Board 2? Approves NYU's demolition plans for 133-139 MacDougal Street / Provincetown Playhouse despite widespread community disapproval

by cathryn on June 24, 2008

Manhattan Community Board 2 voted 37-1 (with 2 abstentions) to approve NYU’s proposal to demolish 133-139 MacDougal Street, the Provincetown Playhouse and Apartments.

Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation(GVSHP) noted, at last week’s general meeting(June 19), speaker after speaker spoke out against NYU’s demolition plans and ONLY NYU and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer‘s office spoke in favor of demolishing the Provincetown Playhouse and yet the Community Board voted with them.

Who exactly does the Community Board represent?

After NYU’s initial plans to totally demolish the historic Playhouse were revealed, heated protest caused the University to back down – somewhat. According to GVSHP, NYU “did agree to preserve the four walls and entry facade of the theater portion of the building, although NYU originally claimed there was nothing worth preserving about the theater.”

The Real Deal, a real estate blog, wrote about the history of the building:

“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 article notes that, “… the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation deemed [the location] eligible for historic preservation this week.” NYU’s plans include a new building “with two extra floors to be used by its School of Law.”

Andrew Berman, head of GVSHP, commented: “Unfortunately there seem to be a little too much eagerness [by the Community Board] to accommodate NYU at the expense of our neighborhood’s history and character.”

Then, if you look at their track record on Washington Square Park, Community Board 2 voted twice in favor of the “renovation” of Washington Square Park again despite widespread community disapproval.

The Board eventually rescinded their approval when the New York City Parks Department’s lack of transparency and withholding of information became impossible to ignore.

That being said, neither Community Board Chair Brad Hoylman, nor NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, seem to remember that the “approval” was rescinded. The Community Board chairs are often seen featured in photos with Commissioner Benepe and the BID (Business Improvement District) members holding checks towards the Park’s redesign.

So, who exactly does the Community Board represent?

 

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Tara June 25, 2008 at 12:45 am

Oh my God, what is happening in this city? The community board is clearly on the take if they blatantly ignore the wishes of the COMMUNITY in favor of the rich and famous, ALL OF THE TIME. What an embarrassment they are! When will New York City belong to the people again, instead of a handful of the ultra-rich?? How much of this city’s history will we lose while this continues?

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j June 25, 2008 at 10:11 am

get over it — that building has no architectural value whatsoever. have you been inside lately? did you see the renderings for the building that would have replaced it? would have been much more attractive than what’s there now.

i’m all for historical preservation but the obsession with putting the city under glass is ridiculous. it’s always been about change. if you want to fight about saving the city’s history, at least pick something worthwhile.

sheesh.

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Chair, CB 2 June 25, 2008 at 10:52 am

Uh, thanks for the shout out. LOL

The truth is, the Community Board negotiated the preservation of the Provincetown Playhouse in conjunction with the Manhattan Borough President’s Task Force on NYU Development in response to community opposition about NYU’s plan to demolish it. While this may not be everything you or others may have hoped for (e.g., preservation of the entire building), NYU technically didn’t need any approvals or guidance from the Community Board or other City agencies to proceed with its original project. Negotiation is always about meeting the other side part way. We think this plan accomplishes that goal. In fact, some preservationists and theater lovers are proclaiming it as a “victory.”

As for Washington Square Park, again, the community board’s role is advisory. While you may not like the park design per se, and many on our board don’t either, as an advisory body with no formal power, we think it is important to negotiate with the Parks Department and in the process we have achieved significant concessions — including lowering the height of the proposed fence, making certain the comfort stations are renovated to ADA standards, and widening the new pathways within the park.

It’s a cliche, I know, but it rings true here: let’s not make the perfect be the enemy of the good.

Thanks for the opportunity to respond.

Brad Hoylman
Chair
Community Board 2
[email protected]

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Tara June 26, 2008 at 5:28 am

J, no one is saying the Provincetown Playhouse should be preserved because it is some sort of architectural masterpiece or something. To say that is the only worthwhile reason to preserve a building is pretty narrow. The fact is, NYU doesn’t have to completely demolish it. Why is that necessary? It is a building with an artistic, bohemian history, and there is no reason for them to just completely bulldoze it. Period. Why not renovate it? Or fix it up to make it nicer inside? It just sounds way over the top. Plus it is even more so disturbing to me because there is this insane pattern with the Community Board where they just weakly bow down to the will of the rich and influential, and do not stand up for what the community they are representing wants. I’m sorry — when polled, 98% of the community was against doing a major redesign of Washington Square Park. Isn’t it the Community Board’s job to REPRESENT those wishes, instead of trying to place nicely with what Bloomberg’s buddies want? None of this is good enough for me. The Village deserves better. In this context especially I’m concerned about the Community Board’s weakness in voting to approve the demolition of the Provincetown Playhouse, a building with historic value. It leaves me asking, what is next to go? Don’t you think these kind of moves set a precedent for future efforts to save other buildings/parks/landmarks? That is what is worrying me the most. What is next?

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cat June 28, 2008 at 6:27 am

Hi Brad,

Thank you for writing and your response.

There’s much I could say. For the moment, a few things. The word and concept that the Community Board “role” is “advisory” is bandied about in order to either justify or dismiss its ‘power’ and limits. However, if i’s so, then why not ‘go for’ what is really in order? What the COMMUNITY really ‘wants?’ Not what the businesses want, not what the Parks Department wants, not what Mayor Bloomberg wants, what the COMMUNITY wants.

If, in the instance of the Provincetown Playhouse, NYU stated they would abide by the decision the CB made via the vote, why not go for the ‘right thing’? NYU has destroyed much too much especially around WSP. It’s clear that they knew how you were voting in advance or they never would have said they would follow your vote. If they didn’t want to follow your vote, they would have used the word that CB’s roles are “advisory” — as to why they didn’t have to. They would use that word just as you did. It seems to me it’s used when it’s convenient.

With Washington Square Park, there’s also so much that could be said, but the Community Board did not fight hard enough for that Park. The CB did not fight hard enough for the community, for New York, for history. The CB did not fight for New York’s public space and allowed – by not condemning and opposing – a huge reduction in the public space, privatization of the fountain and opened the way for possible further privatization (via the Conservancy model) of the Park.

The CB allowed the Parks Department to be non-transparent and misleading (HIDING key facts and information) almost every step of the way and then you go and pose in pictures with them. The Parks Department got away with what Robert Moses couldn’t! All because your Community Board was not stronger in the beginning when you clearly could have been. Same with Alan Gerson. Same with Christine Quinn. It’s not okay that there is a huge reduction in public space. That the whole park has been REDESIGNED, not renovated. There’s no excuse for what was allowed to happen.

You know Commissioner Benepe throws the Community Board’s initial vote of TWO approvals of the Plan around – do you consider the vote rescinded? because as far as I know it was – as a way to divert the other City Council members from questioning it. You must know that Council Member Gerson and Speaker Quinn do the same.

Since you have some further influence on the pathways and other design elements, I hope you will be calling a meeting of the WSP Task Force soon, and exhibit that influence.

I’m sure you’ve done good things on the Community Board but these two rulings were too extremely important to be failings.

Sincerely,

Cathryn
Washington Sq Park Blog

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Arthur Remes July 6, 2009 at 2:12 pm

As a person who loves the Village and has seen the changes occurring under the Bloomberg administration, I am saddened by what seems to be the loss of the city I grew up in. I hoped the Landmarks Preservation Commission would have stopped the rape of the Village. I remember Penn Station and the loss that was to New York. Now I see the murder of Washington Square and the destruction of the old Village. Maxwell Bodenheim is turning over in his grave. Eugene O’Neill? Who’s that?

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