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Located at Astor Place, it’s hard to miss the red-bricked building of The Public Theater. A theater “of, by, and for the people,” it is “artist-driven, radically inclusive, and fundamentally democratic,” opened in founded by Joe Papp over 60 years ago, conceived as the country’s first nonprofit theater.

Joe’s Pub at The Public is one of the most influential venues in New York City, serving as a crucial launching pad for young artists. Opened in 1998 as the launching pad for some of the world’s most famous musicians and actors, and intimate performing space for established artists, the Pub maintains its position as an important cultural mainstay in New York.

This past September, The Public Theater celebrated their 50th Anniversary Downtown in their Astor Place location. To mark the occasion, we took a little field trip to bring you some of their most interesting secrets. 

10. The Public Theater is Located in the Astor Library Building

The Public Theater is located in the Astor Library, which was one of the first important public libraries in New York City. The library opened in 1845, making the Public Theater both one of New York’s oldest public buildings and a benchmark 1960’s preservation project. John Jacob Astor pledged $400,000 to create a reference library using the books from the great book collector and librarian Joseph Green Cogswell.

In 1898, the Astor Library relocated to become a part of the new public library at 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue. An organization called the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society bought the building at 425 Lafayette and ripped out and altered much of the original interior.

In 1965, the building was sold to a developer set to demolish the building, when the Landmarks Preservation Commission stepped in and won its first victory, arranging for the producer Joseph Papp’s New York Shakespeare Festival to buy the building for $560,000. The space would become Joseph Papp’s indoor complex to supplement the festival’s outdoor performances of Shakespeare in Central Park.

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