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Group Rallies to Spare Seedy Eighth Avenue Theater

The Times' City Room blog had a very touching?pun intended?look back on the Playpen theater (left, via Flickr/woody1969) near Times Square a few days ago, which went dark for good after 90+ years of foreign flicks and porn. Mostly porn. In fact, in its incarnation as the gay porn spot Adonis, it was shuttered in 1994 by the Department of Health for, uh, sauciness. Well, building owner Tishman will demolish the building, perhaps as soon as tomorrow, and in a city where you can't kick around a rock without pissing someone off, preservationists are trying to save the ol' porn hole. A group calling itself the Committee To Save The Playpen Theater sent out a press release calling for the Playpen to be spared, and there's some good history in there too.

The theater opened in 1916 as the Ideal Theatre, and was designed by architectural firm Eisendrath & Horwitz in the Beaux Arts style. It survived under a series of names, including the Squire Theatre, Cinecitta, Cameo, New Cameo, and Adonis, and staged Vaudeville acts, silent films, & foreign films in its early years, respectively. According to the Film Daily Yearbook of 1930, it seated 598 patrons. Rare & distinguishable façade attributes include ornate brasswork around the windows, a cameo depicting a woman unspooling a roll of film, a cornice interlocking with an arched pediment, a grand arch with medallions, triangular pediments, ornate pilasters, brickwork, and a marquee that has been renovated, but likely retains original materials underneath. The auditorium portrays goddesses in decorative plaster. Preservationists consent 2 proposals:

1. The facade & interior spaces could be incorporated into the proposed high-rise, granting a distinctive presence which “merges the best of both worlds” (old world charm & modernism). This could be a great marketing strategy. The Hearst Tower, amongst others, serve as case studies.

2. Transport the theater to a new site, as Tishman accomplished for the AMC Empire Theatre on 42nd St in 1998. The Playpen Theater could be donated to a theater/cultural non-profit in exchange for a tax write-off. It would be sold to new owners, and the developers and the non-profit could benefit financially. (For example, Michael Perlman, Chair of Committee To Save The Moondance Diner, was responsible for salvaging the Moondance by working with Extell Development & donating it to the American Diner Museum. It is now in Wyoming gaining a new lease on life).

Tishman has yet to announce the plans for the site, but odds are it will be big and expensive. As for those "goddesses in decorative plaster" mentioned above, you can see them right here, accompanied by the amazing comment, "had to dodge the pimps and crack ho's to sneak this pic."
· A Seedy Eighth Avenue Landmark, Gone Dark [City Room]