While we all get ready to enjoy the holiday weekend, there is no holiday for preservation! At next Tuesday’s Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) hearing, an exciting application will be presented for 74 East 4th Street, home to former Village Award winner, La Mama Experimental Theater Club. The application for this East Village landmark (both an individual NYC landmark and part of the East Village/Lower East Side Historic District) includes a full restoration of its wonderful front facade. Built in 1873, this four story brick building is largely intact, with the exception of its storefront, and features cast iron classical ornament and a large metal bracketed cornice capped by a broken pediment. Aside from its architectural merit, the building is richly emblematic of the East Village’s history and development.
Designed by German-born architect August H. Blankenstein, 74 East 4th Street is known as the Aschenbroedel Verein building. Aschenbroedel Verein was a German-American professional orchestral musician’s social and benevolent association founded in 1860. By 1866 the society had grown large enough that it purchased this site and eventually built this structure for its use. Aschenbroedel Verein became one of the leading German organizations in Kleindeutschland (Little Germany) on the Lower East Side and boasted among its membership top orchestral musicians in the city at this time. The society moved to Yorkville in 1892 and the building was subsequently owned by Gesangverein Schillerbund, one of the city’s most important and oldest German singing societies. It was at this time that the main facade of the building was altered and the cast iron ornament was added as well as the three composers’ busts above the second floor windows. The design for this alteration was the work of German-born architects [Frederick William] Kurtzer & [Richard O.L.] Rohl.
Gesangverein Schillerbund followed Aschenbroedel Verein to Yorkville in 1896 and thereafter 74 East 4th Street served as a rental hall for the surrounding community hosting organizational meetings and political and union functions. Fast forward to November, 1967, when it was purchased by La MaMa Experimental Theater Club which makes its home there to this day. La MaMa E.T.C. is an off-Off Broadway theater company that was founded in 1961 by Ellen Stewart and it is the oldest such theater company in New York City. Today La MaMa is home to eighteen repertory companies and produces a new play every three weeks. They have three theaters on East Fourth Street as well as a rehearsal space on Great Jones Street and an art gallery on East 1st Street. While Stewart passed away in 2011, her legacy lives on at this thriving block and at 74 East 4th Street.
The application for 74 East 4th Street which will be presented at next week’s LPC hearing on Tuesday, September 5, 2017 (click HERE for the GVSHP Landmarks Application webpage) is for a full renovation, including new storefront system to replace brick with aluminum, window replacement, elevator renovation, new stairs, roof bulkheads, ADA accessibility, renovation of rear upper façade, and the addition of rooftop mechanicals with screen wall (click HERE for the application). The architecture firm responsible for this project is Beyer Blinder Belle, perhaps best know in the preservation world for its restoration of Grand Central Station. A paint study revealed that the cast iron ornament was originally painted a cream color and this restoration includes painting the restored ornament its historic color. The proposed storefront will maintain the existing cast iron ornamented piers and replace the brick infill with a more sympathetic and welcoming storefront for the theater.
But perhaps the best part of this application is that this renovation will allow La MaMa, a mainstay of the East Village and the New York City theater community, to continue its mission well into the future. Have a great holiday weekend!