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Playhouse Theatre: Act Three

Demolition and rebuilding?

Long-time residents of Great Neck fondly remember attending the Playhouse Theatre, built in the 1920s, because in its heyday, it attracted performers such as Eddie Cantor, the Marx Brothers and Irving Berlin, hosted a vibrant theatre scene and according to Great Neck Plaza’s historical website, 15 cents could pay for a whole afternoon of double-feature movies. 


And that is why the Village of Great Neck Estates had urged that the building be preserved, but totally gutted and remodeled for apartment dwellers. Local architect Tom Fitzsimmons had drawn up plans for a transformation, but unfortunately died in 2011.


In a phone interview, Mayor David Fox confirmed the news that the new architect for the building’s owners, the Newman Design Group, have concluded that an interior restoration of the building would be extremely difficult and wildly expensive since the floors and windows are out of alignment. He reported that they also have concerns about the structural integrity of the building if it were renovated. They have asked the village for permission to demolish and reconstruct the building for apartments.


While the interior of the building currently holds some small, vacant apartments, Village of Great Neck Estates building inspector Barbara Dziorney explained that the since the building was primarily a theatre, it contains a vast opening in its interior. Spaces that had been used as dressing rooms and offices along the periphery were the portion of the building that were converted to apartments in the 1980s.


Mayor Fox said that since the owners’ incentive zoning permit was expiring, they came before the board to ask for a six-month extension. Board members and the mayors had many questions about the impact on the community if the building, located at 104 Middle Neck Road, were destroyed. The questions revolved around the reverberations of driving piles, noise, dust, traffic and myriad other considerations.


Fox said, “We felt these questions were so important and so serious that we decided to grant a nine-month extension so that the applicant could fully address them.”

The mayor went on to add that the board would require any new construction to maintain the same look and feel as the original building using the same brickwork and decorative elements and also locating the air conditioning system on the roof.


According to proposed building plans filed with the village, there would be a total of 30 underground parking spaces.