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-arts 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,''
Perlman played a
key role in the recent rescue of Manhattan's 74-year-old
Moondance Diner. The neighborhood icon escaped demolition
when a couple bought it off the Internet and moved it
2,100 miles to a new home in western Wyoming.
But there appears
little or no chance of anything similar happening to
the Playpen, which was doomed when partners headed by
Tishman Realty Corp. acquired the property on Eighth
Avenue at 44th Street in July, reportedly for a new
high-rise building. The group said Thursday it was
''currently exploring development options.''
historic theaters in the area that have been saved and
renovated, the Playpen was never given official landmark
status that would prevent its being destroyed.
''We gave it the
old college try,'' said Anna Levin, who chairs the local
community board's land use committee. ''This was looked at
three times but we were completely rebuffed by the
City Planning Commission.''
Landmarks Preservation Commission also studied the issue and
decided the building ''did not meet three necessary
criteria--architectural features, history and cultural
contributions to the city,'' said the agency's
spokeswoman, Lisi de Bourbon.
''We feel that is
a major point, and if it had been landmarked we would
have felt differently about it,'' said Tishman spokesman
As it is, he
said, the company is preserving some ''architectural
elements'' from inside the building, including plaster cameo
figures of goddesses that date to its early days. It
also has arranged for ''high quality photographs'' of
the facade and other notable features, to be displayed
in the new building's lobby as a link to the past, Levin
''It's a charming
vestige of the old Eighth Avenue but not the most
distinctive piece of theater history,'' she said in a phone
During its near
century of life, the brick-fronted theater operated under
at least eight different names, including Esquire, Squire
(twice), Cinecitta, New Cameo, Cameo and Adonis, each
reflecting a particular kind of screen
fare--from Italian- and Russian-language films to
Hollywood B-movies, Scandinavian skin flicks, and gay
In the 1940s a
partial ceiling collapse injured 19 people but, according
to The New York Times, went unnoticed by
patrons in the front rows, who thought the noise was just
''weird sound effects'' of Dr. Terror's House of Horrors.
Located on the
fringe of the Times Square district, the theater was
excluded from an extensive 1990s project in which sleek new
hotels and renovated theaters transformed the midtown
blocks where sex shops and other marginal activities
had flourished since the post-World War II era.
spearheaded by then-mayor Rudolph Giuliani, was praised by
some New Yorkers as a rebirth of Times Square but criticized
by others as a ''Disneyfication'' that destroyed its
traditional character. Disney decided in the mid 1990s
to renovate the New Amsterdam Theatre. Its success
with the theater, first as the home of The Lion King
and now housing Mary Poppins, brought other
family entertainment to West 42nd Street, including
Madame Tussauds and several large movie chains.
were apparent in responses to a recent Times story on
the demise of the Playpen, with its racy
advertisements of ''Live Girls'' and private booths to
''preview'' porn films.
''It's so sad to
see adult spaces disappearing in this city as
homogenization flattens all that is unique under the guise
of 'family friendliness,''' one person wrote. Said
another: ''Make way for another tourist-oriented
wholesome enterprise. I'd take Billy's Topless any
chastised a third. ''It's a dump.'' (Richard Pyle, AP)