Part of our blog series Why Isn’t This Landmarked?, where we look at buildings in our area we’re fighting to protect that are worthy of landmark designation, but somehow aren’t landmarked.
64-66 Fifth Avenue, on the west side of the street between 12th and 13th Streets, is a striking Romanesque Revival structure that was actually built in three stages – first in 1892 by architect R.H. Robertson, with additions in 1907 and 1915. This building has had several lives; first as headquarters to one of the world’s great publishing companies when it expanded to America, then housing one of the most influential movie houses in American history, and later as home to “the Picasso of Dance,” where that art form was reshaped and re-imagined for generations for come. Today we explore that history and ask “Why Isn’t This Landmarked?”
This building was constructed for Macmillan Co. Publishers to serve as their American headquarters. Founded in 1843 in Scotland by Daniel and Alexander Macmillan, Macmillan made a name for itself publishing great writers like W.B. Yeats, John Maynard Keynes, Lewis Carroll, and Margaret Mitchell.
Macmillan opened an office in the United States in 1869, and sold the American company in 1890s, resulting in the construction of their Fifth Avenue headquarters. They remained here until they built their new headquarters next door at 60 Fifth Avenue in 1924.
Arguably the first art movie house in America, the Fifth Avenue Playhouse opened at 66 Fifth Avenue on December 16, 1925 showing The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. In 1935 the Jewish Telegraph Agency reported that the “little playhouse brings to New York movies of interest to lovers of France and to those familiar with the French language…Beginning Friday night, the Fifth Avenue Playhouse is showing “Criez-le sur les Toits,” or “Shout It from the House Tops,” featuring two of France’s well known stars, Simone Heliard and Saint-Granier.”
The theater was renamed the Fifth Avenue Cinema in 1954 when it was operated by Ragoff & Becker. A premiere New York art house for many decades, it was where Satyajit Ray’s “Pather Panchali!” was introduced to New York and Pasolini’s “Accattone” had its first commercial run. It closed its doors in 1973.
Called “the Picasso of dance” and “a prime revolutionary in the arts of this century and the American dancer and choreographer whose name became synonymous with modern dance” by the New York Times, the great American modern dance innovator Martha Graham had her first dance studio at 66 Fifth Avenue beginning in the 1930s, remaining here through the at least the 1950s. Starting off as an all-female dance company, it was while located here that Graham first integrated men into her work and school.
The Martha Graham Dance Company, founded in 1926, is known for being the oldest American dance company. Long after Graham’s death in 1991 it has continued on, now located at 55 Bethune Street in Westbeth.
In 2015 we unveiled one of our historic plaques on 66 5th Avenue in honor of Graham. Here you can see photos and a video of the unveiling, and an article in The Villager. Click here to read more about our Historic Plaque Program, which highlights the incredible people, movements and history connected to sites all around us.
The New School acquired the building in 1973. It is now home to The New School Archives and Special Collections. The New School Archives and Special Collections are home to historical materials related to all divisions of The New School (founded 1919), including Parsons School of Design (founded 18925) and Mannes School of Music (founded 1916).
Please join us in urging the city to protect the vital history and beauty of this building and others in the neighborhood south of Union Square, which is endangered because, unique among Greenwich Village and the East Village, it is lacking in both landmark and zoning protections. Click here to send a letter to city officials supporting landmark protections for the area now.