Walking MacDougal Street Today: An Experience of Presence

When walking up and down MacDougal Street today, one can discover that small pieces of history still remain from the early 1900s.  It seems that MacDougal Street has always been a place in New York where different types of art can be practiced and expressed and where people do not feel the need to conform.  Although the street has undergone changes since the days of the Provincetown Players, and then the Beat Movement, the street still embodies a feeling of nonconformity and freedom of personal expression.  It is possible that its location in the village and proximity to NYU has allowed this area to remain a place for young people who are comfortable with expressing themselves.  The street still contains a few historical landmarks from the 19th century including Café Wha?, Minetta Tavern, and the original theater of the Provincetown Players.  

However, this theater is all that remains of the Provincetown Players location on MacDougal Street.  In fact, this building was at the center of a lot of controversy recently.  The theater was part of four 19th century townhouses located at 133-139 MacDougal Street that were recently acquired by NYU who was looking to build a new space for their law school (Pogrebin, p. 1).  NYU ended up demolishing three of the four townhouses and say they spent 4.5 million dollars restoring the original theater (Pogrebin, p. 1).  This rebuilding caused da lot of controversy and debate and while some are happy with the outcome, others are not.  Today, the theater is being run by NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development who uses the venue to stage theater events (Pogrebin, p. 2).  This theater is not the only location on MacDougal Street that has been altered over time. 

The Gaslight Café, which closed in 1971 is an additional location on MacDougal Street that remains, but is altered.  The space is still there but it is now known as 116 MacDougal, a venue that is dedicated to restoring the space back to its former glory during the years when it was known as The Gaslight Café.  In other words, the space is still there but the original venue itself is not.  However, the current owners are trying to pay tribute to the famous beat café and hold poetry readings and comedy and music events (116 MacDougal Street). 

It seems that today, people are really trying to preserve the unique and historical aspects of the street that have come to make it what it is today.  Whether it is the Provincetown Playhouse or the Gaslight Café, it seems that preservation has become an important issue to the residents of MacDougal Street and the village.  It seems that it is for this reason, that walking along MacDougal Street is an experience of presence, not absence, when placing this experience in the context of last week’s readings.  One does not have to use a lot of imagination.  One reason for this may be that it seems as though much of the architecture still remains with the majority of the brick buildings not higher than six or seven stories and covered with rusty fire escapes.  The same stairs leading down into the Gaslight Café that existed decades ago are still there.  All of the remaining locations such as these and those mentioned earlier help contribute to the atmosphere of MacDougal Street to make the experience a present one—the history is still there. 

Overall, walking down the street today, one finds that it houses a lot of restaurants, cafes, comedy clubs, live music venues, and apartments.  The buildings seem to be no higher than six or seven stories, and the atmosphere is very casual.  At night the atmosphere becomes a bit more loud and rowdy as the street is lined with quite a few bars, and happens to be right next to a college campus.  It seems that its characteristics today are still similar to the factors that defined it so many years ago in the earlier twentieth century, all the way through the beat movement and after.  It is still a casual environment of nonconformity, where young people can enjoy a cappuccino at a cafe or a drink at a bar, converse, read poetry, or listen to a great musical artist.  It can be argued that this demonstrates the impact that the people and movements of the past have had on the street and neighborhood—an impact that can still be seen today.



 “History.” 116. N.p. Web. 15 Oct 2012. <http://116macdougal.com&gt;.

Robin, Pogrebin. “Rebuilt Theater Opening Amid Debate.” New York Times [New York] 10 Dec 2010, n. pag. Print. <http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/11/theater/11playhouse.html/?_r=0&adxnnl=1&pagewanted=all&adxnnlx=1350335943-BFfTCMvAT dtFtPx1kTRDw>.


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