EAST VILLAGE — The city's Landmarks Preservation Commission on Tuesday signed off on a long-awaited plan to build a library and cafe addition onto the Anthology Film Archives structure at 32 Second Ave.
The expansion will allow the art house cinema to make much-needed revenue hawking food and drinks at the cafe, said the center's co-founder, who said the film screenings weren't bringing in enough money to cover operating costs.
"We are not doing this because of some whim that we want to build another floor or to have a cafe — no," said Jonas Mekas at Tuesday's hearing on the alteration.
"You may not know, but Angelika and Film Forum, they’re losing on their screening programs but they're balanced with their minimal small cafes. So it's for us, operating on a huge deficit, this is like a necessity."
Officials at Angelika and Film Forum could not immediately be reached for comment.
Mekas went on to say the library addition will allow the center to finally display the roughly 30,000 rolls of film and other artifacts that are gathering dust in a basement — the small library currently operating in the center is just a "fragment" of the buried stock, he said.
"There are boxes and boxes ... paper materials, books, periodicals, documentation, that must be made available to scholars, students of cinema, and they’re just sitting there in boxes," he said.
The design from Bone/Levine Architects calls for an additional story that will house the center's library topped by a roof terrace for events, plus a horizontal build-out on the building's rear that will hold a cafe area on the bottom floor and three additional layers jutting out of the structure for archival spaces.
The facade of the new story will be constructed with coated copper while a metal mesh topping will be inscribed with the name of the center. The extra height is in keeping with the area's zoning.
The landmarked structure operated as a courthouse until 1979, when Anthology Film Archives bought it to renovate and convert into a theater and archive space. Anthology moved into the building from its original Wooster Street location and reopened there in 1988.
But the renovation carried out by renowned architect Raimund Abraham remained incomplete for decades, said Mekas and architect Kevin Bone, who said at the hearing there had been many proposals for the completed project before the final one.
"We did all we could to get the Anthology doing what the Anthology did best, which is to start showing the great art works of the independent cinema," he said of the initial renovation, which he undertook as an architect with Abraham. "So here we are, now 35 years later.
"Over the time I have been witness to about a dozen speculations about how this building might have been completed. ... I would like to respectfully suggest that this is the best of all of those," he added, praising the design for its "modest[y]" and the blending of the new addition with the historic structure.
Anthology announced the expansion earlier this year, and launched a fundraising project to support the $6 million renovation, as reported at the time by Artnet.