Landmarks Commission Considers Loew’s Canal Theater Tomorrow

Photo: LES Tenement Museum

Tomorrow’s a big day for neighborhood activists intent on protecting one of the Lower East Side’s historic jewels, the Loew’s Canal Theater.  Back in March, we covered an initial hearing of the Landmarks Preservation Commission.  It looks all but certain the commissioners will vote to protect the theater’s facade. But the fate of the sprawling building, 31 Canal, remains uncertain.

Last year, an arts group in Chinatown was seeking to turn the former Spanish Baroque-style theater into a cultural center. They released a joint statement with the building’s owner, Thomas Sung, on December 28th, saying, in part:

Over the course of the next six months the Sung family will undertake a complete engineering structural feasibility study to determine potential configurations and the possibility for such a center at the former theatre site on 31 Canal Street… The Sung family remains interested in developing the entire building, while rehabilitating the theatre space and creating a cultural and performing arts center. The Sung family intends to keep the historic Canal Street façade intact.

Since that time, however, the arts organization (called CREATE) and Sung have not been in contact.  Amy Chin, who’s spearheading the cultural center project, says efforts to reach the Sung family have been unsuccessful, and she does not know the results of the engineering analysis.

The study was supposed to exmine the feasibility of building a 12 or 13 story apartment tower over the theater. Sung told The Villager last year, ““We are very much dedicated to seeing this happen…“but there are always financial constraints and physical constraints.”

Chin told me she remains dedicated to the preservation effort. But as far as the cultural center proposal is concerned, her group has been forced to move on. Eying a deadline to use funds allocated by the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., CREATE has now pinned its hopes on another building, 70 Mulberry (a city-owned building hosuing Chinatown Manpower).

But other Lower East Side preservationists still hope the theater will have a second act. Remarkably, the grand interior of the 1926 theater is essentially intact (although the seats have been removed). Landmarking would not protect the interior. But the activists believe designating the facade is a good first step.

Several other Lower East Side buildings will also be considered by the Commission tomorrow. Among them:

  • The Grand Street Playhouse at the Abrons art Center, 464 Grand (already in the national and state historic registers).
  • E. Ridley & Sons Department Store, 315-317 Grand.
  • 97 Bowery (a five-story Italianate commercial structure with a cast-iron façade constructed c. 1869).

We’ll have a full report after tomorrow’s meeting.