Theater 80 in New York could become another victim of the pandemic

There are fewer and fewer places in New York City where you can walk through a door and feel transported back in time. Among them is 80...


There are fewer and fewer places in New York City where you can walk through a door and feel transported back in time. Among them is 80 St. Marks Place, a Prohibition-era underground bar converted to an Off Broadway theater in the early 1960s.

Inside the front door there are still hooks recessed into the brick where steel plates once hung to save time during police raids. The lobby walls are covered with framed, autographed photos of dozens of famous actors, including Katharine Hepburn, Joan Crawford and Myrna Loy.

A narrow corridor connects the theater lobby to the William Barnacle Tavern, where you can still buy absinthe at a bar that has been established since the 1920s. The performance space itself, the Theater 80, is intimate, with a capacity of 199 places. You can hear someone speaking at a normal volume from anywhere in the room.

But like so many treasures in the city, the theater, the tavern and the american gangster museum, on the second floor, are all threatened with extinction due to the pandemic.

Lorcan and Genie Otway, who own the buildings connected to 78 and 80 St. Marks Place and live in an upstairs apartment, are now scrambling to prevent a mortgage investor from auctioning them off.

“The closure offered us no protection from creditors, which in my opinion is unreasonable,” Lorcan Otway said during a recent tour of the building and its underground tunnels, through which the contraband had passed into. smuggling in the 1920s and 1930s.

Otway, whose father bought the buildings in 1964, said the theater, museum and tavern were in good financial health until March 2020 when they were closed by a state warrant that touched virtually every corner of the entertainment and service industries. Shortly before, he had taken out a $ 6.1 million mortgage on the properties to settle an estate dispute, pay legal fees and finance necessary renovations.

With the pandemic lockdown and a steep drop in income, this loan went into default and was purchased by Maverick Real Estate Partners about a year ago. The company, according to court documents, has completed more than 130 distressed debt transactions, with a total value of more than $ 300 million.

Otway, who dug the theater space with his father when he was 9 and had turned down many offers from developers over the years, said he hired a lawyer to renegotiate payment terms, but the lender Original stopped returning his phone calls and sold the debt to Maverick without his knowledge.

Maverick, Otway said, then raised the interest rate to 24%, from 10%, taking the debt from about $ 6 million to about $ 8 million. The company did not respond to messages requesting comment.

Joe John Battista, artistic director of 13th Street Repertory Theater, is familiar with a conflict like this. Her company was recently evicted from the space it had occupied since 1972 after the majority of the building’s shareholders were foreclosed.

“Real estate is real estate, but it’s the arts,” Battista said. “There should be special attention when the city is in danger of losing a piece of cultural history like this.”

Theater 80 hosted plays throughout the 1960s, including the pre-Broadway airing of the musical “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown”. From 1970 until the death of Otway’s father in 1994, the space was used for showing films; for a time, it was New York’s longest-running house devoted exclusively to revival films.

City Councilor Carlina Rivera grew up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and recalled seeing Shakespeare at Theater 80 as a teenager. “It’s a heartbreaking story,” she said, adding that the intricacies of running even the smallest business in New York City now requires a team of experts.

“This is a huge advantage for large developers, real estate companies, financial institutions who can both shoulder this cost and hire a team to manage it,” Rivera said. “And the damage is not only to small landowners and the deterioration of the assets of otherwise poor people, but also to the community as a whole which loses owners interested in providing beneficial things.”

Arthur Z. Schwartz, a lawyer renowned for representing oppressed clients, said there had to be some type of legislative change to rule over the purchase of distressed mortgages.

“Besides the fact that you have a predatory lender that set this up, so there was no way they could ever make the payments and then go from a mortgage to some kind of commercial paper,” said Schwartz. “It allows you to bypass a lot of things that we have these days to protect mortgagees because of Covid. “

John McDonagh, an old friend of Otway, scheduled a benefit performance for his show “Off the Meter, ” a comedic monologue about his decades of driving a yellow cab in New York City, with all the profits going to Theater 80.

“I’m just trying to help save a theater that Covid, gentrification and the big bankers are trying to take,” said McDonagh, whose show runs Jan. 21-23 as part of 1st Irish Festival of Origin Theater Company.

“St. Marks Place without Theater 80 would be like Houston Street without Katz’s Deli,” McDonagh said. “It was always like something was missing in the East Village.”

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Newsrust - US Top News: Theater 80 in New York could become another victim of the pandemic
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