The Playgoer: Theatre History in a Pornhouse

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Theatre History in a Pornhouse

Ever noticed a lovely looking old theatre hiding behind this Times Square porn theatre? Some did manage to survive Disneyfication. Until now, that is.

Running up 8th Avenue on my way to or from some more "respectable" fare, I must say my eye always wanders west to the pathetic looking "Playpen" between 43rd & 44th.* If you can get past the gaudy outdated neon marquee, you notice such surprisingly refined antiquity features as romanesque columns, an elegant little white arch, and mini-pediments above the now boarded windows. Many times, as my sights rise above the emporium's faded temptations of the flesh, I have thought, what a beautiful little home this could make for one of our wandering Off Broadway companies. A palace for classics! A repertory for Princess Theatre-era musicals!

I always assumed this place must have had some different history before Playpen, and I was right. Turns out it was a vaudeville house and movie theatre dating back 90 years.

And now someone's got other plans for it:

It opened in 1916 as a vaudeville theater called the Ideal and closed a few weeks ago as the Playpen, a seedy porno emporium on the ragged rim of Times Square. It now faces the wrecking ball despite a last-minute attempt to rescue it.

With few theaters dating from the early 20th century still in existence, one of Gotham's oldest "shouldn't be sacrificed for the sake of progress," said Michael Perlman, a self-appointed preservationist who wants to keep the building's Beaux Art facade — with its curved central arch, pilasters, statues and other ornate features — by incorporating it into a new building, or moving it to another location.

This is a "culturally and architecturally significant structure, and we hope to preserve this gem for future generations," he said.
The wonderful site has a nice photo-spread, including a close up of what seems to be a little cameo window with an invented Muse of Cinema!

Yet another poignant metaphor of how tearing down relics of our urban "seediness" destroys many jewels of our heritage as well.

*Sorry, I originally had the streets wrong. Now corrected.

1 comment:

Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Ah, but have you ever ventured inside to take a peek?