It has spent almost 60 years in Hell’s Kitchen, but now New Dramatists is looking for a buyer for its home on W44th Street — an area renowned for its rich theatrical heritage.
“424 West 44th Street has been a creative home for New Dramatists for almost six decades. Above the door, it says, ‘Dedicated to the Playwright,’ so that all who cross the threshold understand our purpose. We’re extraordinarily grateful to have been anchored in this wonderful neighborhood for many years, and we’re equally grateful to the many artists, supporters and staff — past and present — who made this humble organization a vital playwright development center and nexus of the American Theatre,” said Emily Morse, Artistic Director, and Christie Brown, Executive Director of New Dramatists in a statement to W42ST.
“As we seek out our next artistic home, we will carry the gifts and spirit of this true ‘church of the playwright,’ with us,” the statement added.
New Dramatists was founded in 1949 by Michaela O’Harra with Howard Lindsay, Richard Rodgers, Russel Crouse, Oscar Hammerstein II, John Golden, Moss Hart, Maxwell Anderson, John Wharton, Robert E. Sherwood and Elmer Rice. It was originally established as the New Dramatists Committee, with the aim of fostering the development of playwrights. Just a couple of buildings over on W44th Street (between 9th and 10th Avenue) is the legendary Actors Studio.
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The Neo-Gothic Revival church, converted into a performing arts space with 10,145 square feet, will be delivered vacant with “potential for repositioning or redevelopment for community, residential, or commercial purposes.” Additionally, 8,171 square feet of development rights are available, allowing for an estimated buildable area of 16,871 square feet. New Dramatists will use the proceeds of the sale to purchase a new home.
The United Presbyterian Church, originally established in 1872, underwent several transformations before housing New Dramatists. Initially the second-largest Presbyterian church in New York, it was sold to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in 1903. Architect John Boese designed the Gothic Revival structures we see today. The church played an active role in the community through the 20th century. In the 1960s, it became the All People’s Church, and later, New Dramatists.
Members of the New Dramatists participate in a seven-year residency program to build skills and develop their careers. The building also ran workshops for young authors and had a library which opened to the public. “In the 70 years since our founding, over 700 new dramatists have passed through our doors, creating work that has laid the foundation for contemporary American dramatic literature,” says the New Dramatists’ website.
Current playwrights and alumni have won 20 Pulitzers, 23 Tonys, 84 Obies, 18 Drama Desk Awards, eight MacArthur Fellowships and 14 Susan Smith Blackburn Awards, with New Dramatists itself receiving a Ross Wetzsteon Award for excellence at the 2005 Obies and a 2001 Tony Honor for “blessing the theatre with new and exceptional works that have assured both a rich theatrical heritage and future for the American Theatre.”
This is the second former church building to come up for sale in Hell’s Kitchen in recent times. In January, W42ST reported that the first Black Catholic parish north of the Mason-Dixon sold for $16 million, putting the future use of the 1869 building into question. New Dramatists’ most recent financial report shows land, buildings and equipment at a value of $2,109,452 – but with accumulated depreciation of $1,281,301, that reduced to a value of $846,037. While no price for the building has been published, any sale of such a large, prestigious site and development opportunity will be well in excess of that figure.