Century-Old Lower East Side Playhouse Designated a Historic Landmark

By Patrick Hedlund on March 22, 2011 3:32pm 

By Patrick Hedlund

DNAinfo News Editor

DOWNTOWN — The city Landmarks Preservation Commission voted unanimously Tuesday to designate a century-old playhouse on the Lower East Side a historic landmark, citing its history as an experimental theater and performance space that helped start the Off-Broadway movement.

The building at 466 Grand St., at the corner of Pitt Street, currently houses the Henry Street Settlement's Harry De Jur Playhouse, which previously served as a stage for Yiddish theater and plays from the likes of George Bernard Shaw, James Joyce and Eugene O'Neill. The Abrons Art Center, built in 1975, is located next door.

The three-story playhouse — constructed between 1912 and 1915 by architecture firm Ingalls & Hoffman, and initially controlled completely by women — housed a dance school founded by choreographer Alwin Nikolais between 1948 and 1970, and later Woodie King Jr.'s New Federal Theatre, the commission said.

The list of luminaries to take the playhouse stage through the years includes James Cagney, George Burns, Fred Astaire, Isadora Duncan and Dizzy Gillespie, according to the Henry Street Settlement.

LPC chairman Robert Tierney called the building "one of the leading cultural institutions on the Lower East Side" in his enthusiastic support for the designation.

"The cultural and architectural history of this building is just stunning," he added.

The structure — featuring a red-brick, neo-Georgian-style façade with clapboard shutters — remains "remarkably intact," leading to unanimous support for the designation, commissioners noted.

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