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Provincetown Playhouse

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Legendary place in theater history, now controversially preserved by NYU

Place Details

Borough : Manhattan
Neighborhood : Greenwich Village
Institution, Education

Place Matters Profile


Elizabeth Adam

This building consisting of four 1840s row houses was the home of the Provincetown Players from 1918. It is an icon of the American Theater and origin of the Off-Off-Broadway movement. It is where Eugene ONeill had the premiers of most of his plays, as well as, those of Edward Albee, Samuel Beckett, David Mamet, Edna St.Vincent Millay and Sam Shepard. Bette Davis made her debut in this theater and Paul Robeson performed there.

The adjacent apartments have housed Theodore Dreiser, Max Eastman, Dorothy Gillespie, Anne Jackson, John Reed, Margaret Sanger, and Eli Wallach, to name just a few.

New York University bought this building a few years back, knowing its history, now they want to demolish it and rebuild for the offices of their law school. NYU has bought up a giant portion of the Village and is try to accumulate even more. Their constructions litter our environment and are mostly out-of-scale and inappropriate to our landmarked district. They originally planned to demolish the entire building, but now due to pressure from neighborhood residents and the theater community, the plan is now to destroy the building only leaving the theater portion in tact. The proposed design is for a very similar building, only larger. The effect would be a “Disneyland” version of the original. Why not simply renovate the existing building and keep the theater and its historic structure intact?

The Provincetown Playhouse is instantly recognizable to anyone in the worldwide theater community. Anyone who hears the name immediately thinks of its history and sees the building in their mind. It fits the space and the surroundings perfectly and although it was renovated in 1940 (by the players), has weathered into the neighborhood with time. It is a Village land mark, although not land marked itself. It lies in a district (the South Village) that is seriously being considered for landmark status, as well it should. If we had Abraham Lincoln’s log cabin today, would we consider demolishing it due to undistinguished characteristics?

New York University is attempting to demolish the building. Our community has come out in force to stop this. They now have modified their plans, but this is still too destructive and we are continuing the fight.(June 2008)

Elizabeth AdamThis theatre is an icon of the American theater. It was where the Off-Off-Broadway theater began. Some of the original members included Djuna Barnes and Edna St. Vincent Millay, in addition to ONeill. Paul Robeson performed and Bette Davis m

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