City Begins Demolition of Historic East River Amphitheater, Birthplace of Shakespeare in the Park

Posted on: December 16th, 2021 at 5:00 am by

Photo: Allie Ryan

Demolition of East River Park continues unhindered, and in plain view of the public. The latest big job was the destruction of the historic East River Amphitheater.

The bulldozers began uprooting the bench seating on Tuesday and continue apace. By yesterday evening, the seating area itself was rubble; the concrete structure is likely next.

City officials announced last summer a $4.83 million preservation effort to install a new roof system over the old structure. However, advocates all along maintained that the announcement was misleading; not “preservation” but a complete structural overhaul (demolition).

Photo: Allie Ryan

The demolition work this week – as well as the chainsaw cutting of dozens of trees – is against the backdrop of the ongoing community lawsuit to halt the $1.45 billion resiliency plan from moving forward. The claimants argue that a temporary restraining order should hold because the New York Court of Appeals decided to hear the case, and that activity should cease. Moreover, a judge signed an order on Monday for the de Blasio administration to prove it is not in contempt of court over its current decimation of the park.

Erected in 1941, the bandshell became home to many community performances and graduation ceremonies.

Joseph Papp, founder of Shakespeare in the Park and the Public Theater, staged Julius Caesar there in 1956, and spent two more seasons there before relocating to Central Park. In 1983, the site was thrust into pop culture with the release of Wild Style, the quasi-documentary about the Siamese birth of hip-hop and graffiti culture that featured a star-studded performance there. That same year the amphitheater closed due to budget cuts.

The amphitheater was restored by the city after September 11, 2001, as part of the efforts to revitalize downtown in the wake of the terrorist attacks.

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