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Astor Place's Public Theater Wants a Monumental New Look

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The former Astor Library has been the home of the Joseph Papp Public Theater since the '60s, but the drama on stage is nothing compared to what's going on with the actual building. The landmark within a landmark (it resides in the protected Noho Historic District) at 425 Lafayette Street has popped up on the Landmarks Preservation Commission agenda for the hearing on November 13. The application is to "alter the sidewalk, construct a stoop, and install signage, lighting, and rooftop mechanical equipment." That all sounds quite simple, but oh boy, it's not.

Basically, in an effort to better utilize its lobby space and emphasize the 19th Century structure within the context of Astor Place, the Public Theater wants to build a plaza extending into the Lafayette Street roadbed, an 18' x 75' stoop leading up to the building (described as a "monumental stairway") and six 10-foot-tall poster boxes on the sidewalk to advertise the Public's productions. The lighting refers to new inset sidewalk lighting along the curb and building lighting to enhance the architecture. Polshek Partnership is designing the new bits and pieces. The plan has already been approved by Community Board 2's Landmarks Committee, and that has some Noho residents up in arms.

According to one Curbed tipster, the Department of Transportation has pre-approved the plaza extension without any public review, and residents were only alerted to the plan three days before the CB2 subcommittee voted on it. The full board will vote on the proposal on November 20. Opposition e-mails are making the rounds, and while they echo support for the Public Theater and its mission, the scale of the changes have folks on edge. The Friends of Noho have submitted a letter to the LPC decrying the size and style of the stoop (it's designed to be black granite), the amount of new signage ("overwhelms the building") and the sidewalk extension ("sets precedent for neighboring buildings"). Fun facts: the three buildings that make up the Public Theater complex were built between 1849 and 1890, and each had a stoop about 10' wide. By the 1920's all the stoops were removed.
· CB2 Landmarks Subcommittee November 2008 - second meeting [.doc]
· Friends of Noho letter to LPC [.doc]
· Public Theater [Official Site]

The Public Theater

425 Lafayette Street, Manhattan, NY 10003 (212) 539-8500 Visit Website