Village of Great Neck Estates trustees said last Thursday said they could not approve plans to demolish the First Playhouse Theater until the property owners submitted a more detailed schedule of the proposed demolition.
“What we need is a more fine grained, projected detailed scheduling on a per week basis,” Trustee Sidney Krugman said at the meeting.
Trustees last month demanded the owners of the property, First Playhouse of Great Neck Corp., submit plans for demolition of the theater or have the village pull the application to take down the building and replace it with a three-story, multi-family luxury apartment building.
The owners recently submitted plans to the board, but Krugman said the schedule they submitted did not provide enough details as to how the proposed demolition would impact the village.
“It’s very broad in scope and gross in detail,” Krugman said.
Krugman said his main concern was how the project would impact traffic within the village.
“In particular, what we’re concerned about is the impact on Maple [Drive] and what periods of time it’s going to be closed,” Krugman said.
Maple Drive would be completely closed during the demolition of the building and would be partially closed during the construction, according to Ramin Shirian, a vice president of New York Lions Group, which represents First Playhouse of Great Neck Corp.
Shirian said he would present a detailed schedule by the next board meeting on May 12.
“If you like, I can break this down for you,” he said. “But it will be projected only.”
Village attorney Thomas Levin urged Shirian to submit the demolition schedule as soon as possible.
“If you have it in by [April] 28, we’ll have time to review it,” Levin said.
The theater, which is located at the corner of Middle Neck Road and Maple Drive, dates back to 1925 and has lain dormant since 1980.
The playhouse attracted many leading acts throughout the years, including the Marx Brothers, Irving Berlin and Oscar Hammerstein.
A plan to replace the theater was first approved in 2007. That proposal would have kept the original facade of the theater and renovated the inside. Those plans fell through when engineers said it would be much more cost-effective to completely rebuild the property.
The project has been criticized by many of the local residents, including Great Neck Estates historian Ilse Kagan.
“It is considered by outsiders and insiders as a very important building in the village, and the history of course is phenomenal,” Kagan said last April. “The playhouse recalls Great Neck’s glorious days.”
Kagan has said the theater’s history makes it worthy of landmark status and that the building should remain as is.
“Now to say that they’re going to take it down and rebuild it is absurd,” Kagan said. “I don’t think that’s a solution.
The Great Neck Historical Society, in a letter written to the village last year, said they would like to see the existing facade retained.
“It is a reminder of an exciting period in our history when we were both literally and figuratively just ‘30 minutes from Broadway,’” the letter said. “A substitute copy of the building is not the same.”
Part of the property is also within the Village of Great Neck Plaza.
The villages of Great Neck Estates and Great Neck Plaza have been holding discussions on the property’s future since 2005.
Village of Great Neck Plaza Mayor Jean Celender said at the meeting she was concerned with the developer’s plan to try to save sidewalks and trees during the construction period.
“We’d rather see you take them out and replant when you’re done,” Celender said. “Same thing with the sidewalk. You’re going to have a brand new building, you’re going to have brand new sidewalks.”
Shirian agreed to Celender’s request.