6. The Public Theater used to be a library

NoHo has long been home to vibrant independent theaters. The Bouwerie Lane Theatre was located in a former 1873 Italianate bank building on Bond Street. In 1963, it was converted into a theater by Honey Waldman, and from 1974 to 2006 it was home to the Jean Cocteau Repertory Theatre. Among the mostly avant-garde plays it produced was Tom Stoppard’s Night and Day (2000), Bertolt Brecht’s The Threepenny Opera (2003), and Jean Genet’s The Maids X 2 (2006). Unfortunately, rising rents in NoHo led the Bouwerie to close in 2007, along with the Bleecker Street Theater in 2010. 

One success story is the Gene Frankel Theatre, which was founded in 1949 and moved to 24 Bond Street in NoHo in 1989. Founded by actor Gene Frankel and directed by him until his death in 2005, the 70-seat theater helped establish the off-off-Broadway scene in New York and also served as a workshop and school. The mission of the theater has always been public-facing and progressive, as Frankel stated: “We are looking to give a home to artists that cultivate a theater that speaks not only of an idealistic socio-political change – but a personal change, the only truly manageable change that can lead to a new and better social, political, economic world.”

The Public Theater, founded in 1954 as the Shakespeare Workshop, makes its home at 425 Lafayette Street in the former Astor Library, one of the earliest public libraries in New York City. Three different architects worked on the building from 1849 to 1881. The south wing was designed by architect Alexander Saeltzer was the library opened to the public in 1845, just a few years before Astor’s death. Astro’s sons oversaw the expansions led by architects Griffith Thomas and Thomas Stent in later years.

In 1895, the Astor Library joined with the Lenox Library and established the New York Public Library. Today, the non-profit theater is an important cultural institution that serves as a launchpad for artists and plays. The Public also operates the Delacorte Theater in Central Park, where it presents the free annual summer series Shakespeare in the Park.