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Letter: Playhouse Theatre

(Editor’s Note: This letter to Great Neck Estates Mayor David Fox is being published at the request of the writer.}


We are writing to you about the Playhouse Theatre, which has played an important role in the history of Great Neck Estates and the entire peninsula. You probably know that George Abbott starred in the first play when the Theatre opened in 1922. Many famous actors were on stage there: Claudette Colbert, Helen Hayes, James Cagney, Lillian Gish and Barbara Stanwyck, among others.  In 1927, to raise money for St. Aloysius Church, a long list of entertainers, including George M. Cohan, Eddie Cantor, the Marx Brothers, Phil Baker, Gene Buck, and Irving Berlin performed there.


Broadway shows often opened there. At one performance in 1927, Sam Harris, Florence Moore, Oscar Hammerstein, Walter Chrysler, Olga Petrova, Harry Sinclair and our own Capt. Russell were in the audience.  

The theatre was converted to a movie house in the 1930s by United Artists, and in 1940 it was completely remodeled. Many Great Neck residents remember enjoying films at the Playhouse until the building was again briefly converted to a theatre in 1982.  


The Great Neck Historical Society is dedicated to preserving and presenting the history and heritage of the Great Neck peninsula. At a Board of Directors meeting this past Wednesday, our members expressed their concern about the current status of the Playhouse structure.


The group wishes to communicate to you our belief that the two exterior facades, on Maple Street and on Middle Neck Road, should be preserved as originally planned by the current owners. Our motto is “Saving the Past for the Future,” and we believe that the Playhouse is a landmark which certainly should be saved. It is a reminder of an exciting period in our history when we were both literally and figuratively just “30 minutes from Broadway.” A substitute copy of the building is not the same.


Saving old buildings has never been easy, but as we learned when the demolition of Pennsylvania Station inspired Jackie Kennedy to become involved in the landmark preservation movement, it is a struggle with very rewarding results.


We would be glad to meet with you and your Board if we can be of help.


Alice Kasten, president, Great Neck Historical Society