7.27.2011

The Place Where Joe Papp Lived

People commonly refer to the Public Theater on Lafayette as "the house that Papp built," referring to its legendary founder Joseph Papp (1921-1991), but let's now consider a place where Papp lived, a handsome modern apartment building in Greenwich Village at 40 E. 9th Street. Known as The Sheridan, the 13-story structure between Broadway and University Place, built in 1950, features deep large terraces and a spacious private landscaped garden. The Historic Landmarks Preservation Center has marked Papp's residence here with one of their oval red cultural medallions, noting his importance as the "dynamic founder and impresario of the New York Shakespeare Festival/Public Theater." He lived in the building from 1973 until 1991, the year of his death.

The Sheridan, 40 E. 9th
The Sheridan, 40 E. 9th St., between University Place and Broadway.
Papp moved to the building in 1973.


Joe Papp: An American LifeAccording to Helen Epstein's biography, Joe Papp: An American Life, the 52-year-old director, his long-time assistant and future wife Gail Merrifield, and his second son, Tony, moved to the apartment on E. 9th Street in the summer of 1973. As Epstein notes, in marked contrast to his previous large apartment on the Upper West Side, one packed with Victorian furniture, his new apartment "was small, bright and – except for beds, one couch and one chair – completely unfurnished." (p. 302) Leaving a 20-year marriage along with the uptown apartment, Papp was starting anew. Importantly, the move downtown afforded closer proximity to his greatest preoccupation, the bustling theatrical spaces on Lafayette.


The Sheridan, (rear facing E. 8th)
back of The Sheraton, view from E. 8th Street. Retail stores are below at street level.
Is this not a classic image of New York apartment life in summer?

Joe didn't have far to go. The Public Theater is a quick zigzag walk away - E. 9th over to Broadway, south to E. 8th, east to Astor Place, and then south to the theater, housed in the old Astor Library. By 1973, when he moved to E. 9th, his reputation was already well established. A native New Yorker born in Williamsburg in Brooklyn to Russian Jewish immigrants, Joseph Papirofsky (later Joe Papp) founded the New York Shakespeare Festival in 1954. The festival began holding performances in Central Park in 1957, eventually establishing a summer home in the Delacorte Theater. Seeking to find a year-round home for performances, in 1967 Papp acquired the use of the old Astor Library from the city, rallying to save the Romanesque Revival building from demolition. In producing and directing accessible Shakespeare and contemporary original plays for all people, Papp built new audiences through his innovative and democratic casting.

Following in his footsteps, let's take The Joe Papp Walk:

Start at The Sheridan at 40 E. 9th, noticing the red plaque in his honor on the front fence. (Check out the back of the building on E. 8th, too, rising up above several retail stores.) To walk in Papp's shoes, proceed to Broadway, stopping at the intersection to check out a picturesque vista to the immediate north dominated by the Gothic Revival of Grace Church and to the south, the grand old facades of Broadway. Walk east over to Astor Place, noticing not only the massive old Wanamaker Department Store Annex (attention KMart shoppers, southeast corner), but the many domineering apartment buildings constructed during the careless decades following the war.

Intersection Broadway and E. 9th, Grace Church
looking north toward Grace Church (Gothic Revival, 1840s with later renovations,
James Renwick, Jr. architect)


former Wanamaker department store
originally Wanamaker Department Store Annex, 1904, D. H. Burnham & Co., nw corner.


Broadway near E. 9th
walking south along Broadway between E. 9th and E. 8th Streets.

From Astor Place, pretend that the glassy Sculpture for Living is not there (for 1973 authenticity sake) and walk over to "the Public," a pleasantly scaled building of a rich brick red. (In 2011, the building is undergoing an extensive renovation.) If the walk takes places on certain days of the evening, consider capping off the Joe Papp walk with a toast to Joe at Joe's Pub.

Lafayette, Public Theater is one the left
On the left, The Public Theater, Lafayette.


sign for Joe's Pub
Joe's Pub



View The Joe Papp Walk in a larger map

• For more on the Historic Landmarks Preservation Center's Cultural Medallion program, see their website here.

Website for The Public Theater 

Website for Joe's Pub 

• Related on Walking Off the Big Apple: For more on the architecture near Astor Place and south along Broadway and Lafayette, please see the post Buildings To Know in NoHo: An Illustrated Self-Guided Tour and Map.

Images by Walking Off the Big Apple. More pix in this set on Flickr WOTBA.

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