Friday, September 28, 2007

Playpen Gutted

Monday night, I went by to check on the Playpen and all was placid. Even a few lights were still glowing in the marquee. This afternoon, however, I found all the lights off and the theater being gutted against the protests of preservationists. The front windows have been sealed with black plastic, but I managed to snap a few inside shots through a tear.

view through the old funny store & into the theater

From the back alley, the open rear door of the theater revealed a Bobcat machine plowing through the space, kicking up plenty of dust.

I spoke to a worker who told me that the original interior cameos have been covered and protected and may eventually be removed for either preservation or sale. But everything else, he said, is just sheetrock, totally stripped. He expects exterior demolition to begin very soon, within the next two weeks. So much for that petition.

Just the other day I spoke to Orlando Lopes, New York Director of the Theater Historical Society of America, and he updated me on the fight to save the Playpen, a.k.a. the Ideal Theater, a.k.a. the Cameo.

He called the theater a significant part of early-twentieth-century moviegoing, “How many 1907 buildings do we still have that were silent filmhouses?” Not many. And this one’s in decent shape. The proscenium, the stud lighting, the details on the exterior, and the original cameos on the interior walls are (were) still intact. But the fact that the Playpen has been a porno theater for the past several years is a strike against it in the city’s heart. “This is no saving the Helen Hayes or Belasco,” Lopes told me.

The preservationists have been trying to act fast. Once the owners catch wind that preservationists are interested, Lopes explained, they often start ripping things apart. And indeed, the ripping has begun.

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