East River Amphitheater in Ruins After 80-Year Run

Posted on: January 3rd, 2022 at 5:01 am by

Photo: Renata Ginzburg

For East River Park, a happy new year it is not. The coastline amphitheater is gone – reduced to rubble in the name of resiliency – after an eighty-year run.

The bulldozers began uprooting the bench seating in early December. By last week, the entire structure was in ruins.

As part of the billion-dollar East Side Coastal Resiliency project, officials announced last summer a $4.83 million preservation effort to install a new roof system over the old structure. However, park advocates all along maintained that the announcement was misleading; not “preservation” but a complete structural overhaul (i.e. demolition).

Erected in 1941, the concrete 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 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 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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