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Where Have You Gone, Fugazy Theatre?

Fugazy Theatre, 1923. Photo by Byron Company. Source: MCNY.

Last month we featured the drawings of Anthony F. Dumas, a man who was responsible for illustrating countless theaters across the world. One of the beauties of his drawings is uncovering theaters that have been lost for decades, some for well over half a century. That’s exactly how we found the Fugazy Theatre.

But just where was this popular venue of long ago?

View of the ballfield from MacDougal Street. Source: Google Maps.

Can you guess its former location by looking at this street view? Considering that the baseball season is coming to an end, it’s only fitting that the site is now the Passannante Ballfield on Houston Street between Sixth Avenue and MacDougal Street in the South Village. The theater once occupied the western half of this large lot facing MacDougal Street.

From 1922 to about 1929, the short-lived though popular Fugazy Theatre stood on this site. The opening photo in this post shows its interior, which housed 1,687 seats and one screen. Owned by Humbert J. Fugazy (1885-1964), a boxing promoter and prominent Italian resident who grew up in the South Village, the theater was designed by architects Reilly & Hall.

May 7, 1922 New York Times article. Source: MCNY.

This 1922 drawing appearing in The New York Times indicates that it was originally called the MacDougal Theatre, which makes sense since this was the street the entrance faced.

Interestingly, plans had also been filed in 1921 to build a three-story brick theater here designed by F. E. Vitolo and C. W. Schlusing with Fugazy and one Anthony Rosetti as the owners. Numerous sources, including the Times article, show that the realized building was a Reilly & Hall design.

The article mentions that the theater was five stories, which echoes what we see in the drawing, and that it was expected to open in October 1922. It also notes that “Besides providing an attractive building for the locality it will also furnish excellent entertainment, combining moving pictures with vaudeville.”

1921 aerial. The roof of the Fugazy Theatre is visible just below the star icon at the corner of Houston and MacDougal Streets. Source: CityMap.

The theater was touted as the largest in the heart of Greenwich Village at that time, and that Fugazy was the son of a well-known Italian banker in the neighborhood. At the time of the building’s construction, Fugazy lived at 157 Bleecker Street at the corner of Thompson Street. His past residences also included 142 Bleecker Street (at present-day LaGuardia Place) and 39 Charles Street (near West 4th Street).  The two Bleecker Street residences are part of the calendared South Village Historic District (GVSHP’s phase II South Village proposal), which the LPC will be voting on by the end of the year.

So what happened to the Fugazy Theatre? According to Cinema Treasures, the City purchased the theater in 1929 in anticipation of subway construction. A 1951 aerial shows that the stretch of property now occupying the Passannante Ballfield had long been cleared of any building here.

You can learn more about Italians in the South Village by looking under the Reports section here.

One response to “Where Have You Gone, Fugazy Theatre?

  1. I remember my parents talking about the Fugazy Theater and Mr. Fugazy who was a well-respected member of the Italian community. My Mother lived at 140 West Houston Street and spoke about going to see serial movies like “The Perils of Pauline”.. They would take their lunch and make a day of it. My Father, who lived on Sullivan Street, told stories of how the boys would pool their money, buy one .50 cent ticket so that one kid could get in. Once inside, he would find the back door and let in all the other kids. The theater was the root of a local expression. If something was a ” real fugazy”, it was a dramatic, heart-breaking story. I grew up hearing and using that expression and it was years before I realized that it was not part of our vernacular!

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