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Great Neck preservationists object to razing of theater

The Village of Great Neck Plaza Historic Preservation Commission has objected to a proposal to raze and replace the First Playhouse Theater with an apartment building, as trustees prepare for a public hearing tonight on the plan.

In a Sept. 4 letter to Great Neck Estates Mayor David A. Fox, commission chairman Michael Nikrooz said the preservation group urged that village to preserve the original facade of the theater at 104 Middle Neck Road, as originally proposed.

"We are dismayed by the plans to demolish this significant structure, which is emblematic of our shared cultural heritage," Nikrooz wrote. "This key building has an outstanding history and symbolizes the important period . . . This handsome building adds character to the area and its loss will be devastating to Great Neck's historic downtown. We appeal to the Village of Great Neck Estates to save this celebrated theater."

Fox was out of the country last week and could not be reached for comment. Deputy Mayor William. D. Warner was also unavailable for comment.

The owners, First Playhouse of Great Neck Corp., want to tear down the theater, where iconic performers such as the Marx Brothers, Irving Berlin and Oscar Hammerstein appeared. In its place, the company wants to construct a 20-unit, five-story masonry and cast stone apartment building.

Reached Friday, Nikrooz said the commission had not planned to address the board at tonight's 8 p.m. hearing and chose instead to send its message directly to the mayor.

"The letter speaks by itself," Nikrooz said. "It's a shame to just demolish this building with no concern about the history and background of this area and this building."

"For [older] people native to the Great Neck area it brings good memories back to them," Nikrooz said. He noted that besides being an important Jazz Age theater, in the 1980s it was used by Iranian Jews who moved into the community but had no place to pray.

"Also it's a nice brick building to begin with," Nikrooz said. "I wish they would preserve the complete facade of this theater . . . a good architect could do it and keep this heritage for us."

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