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Lap 12 - A "Dramatic" Effort.

The Mercer Arts Center was the most recent of Sy's great projects. His wife Cindy picks up the story as that's when she came onto the scene...

I was around during the Mercer Arts Center period. In fact, that was how Sy and I met. I was manager of an off-Broadway show called "The Proposition" which was playing at the Mercer Arts Center in 1971. I was sent to tell the President of the Center, Sy, that we could not pay the rent. Sy has been paying the rent ever since!

During the late 1960's and early 1970's there was a shortage of theatre space for off-Broadway. Art D'lugoff (who founded and owned the Village Gate) discovered the first and second floor of the old Broadway Central Hotel were for rent and had the idea of converting them into off-Broadway theaters. He knew Sy as Sy had air-conditioned the Village Gate. (Sy used to get friendly with customers like D'lugoff while trying to collect on work he had done.) D'lugoff talked him into co-signing on a substantial loan to create the Mercer Arts Center (located on Mercer Street near W. 3rd.)

The original project wasn't financially successful and Sy was faced with a complete loss on the loan or with taking it over. He then got other contractors he knew to put in additional money and completely refurbished the place. When complete it held 5 off-Broadway theaters (with between 199 and 299 seats); a bar and restaurant, a boutique as well as studios (for Gene Frankel and Viveca Lindfors); and an experimental video theatre called "The Kitchen" [aptly named as it was housed in what was the kitchen of the old Hotel] .

It lasted from 1971 to 1973 when the entire building collapsed due to long term neglect by the owners of the Broadway Central Hotel. That was the tragic finish to the project, but during its time the Center was a well known place. The theaters housed a number of interesting productions: a major revival of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest", "The Proposition", "El Coca-cola Grande", etc. And after hours it was the home to the punk rock, glam rock scene. Their most famous rockers were The New York Dolls (lead singer was David Johansen who was later famous under the name Buster Pointdexter for "Hot-Hot-Hot").

We were in the building when it collapsed. We had been hearing weird noises all day. We called the 24 hour building department hot line to try to get an inspector to come out and tell us if it was safe to open all the shows that night (there were five theaters) and were told to call back Monday.

Sy was debating what to do. The situation made him uneasy, but if he closed the shows for the weekend and nothing was wrong he would be sued by all the show's producers. Things kept getting weirder and weirder and Sy told me to call the fire department. He just wanted some kind of official agency to back him up for closing the shows on the weekend. I was on the phone to the fire department when the building went down. I kept asking them to come and they kept asking me what was wrong. I kept saying, "The walls are making very strange noises." And they kept saying, "Have you been drinking?" Then bam we were disconnected and I flew up in the air from the impact. Everyone in the office went out the fire escape in the dark holding hands. When we reached the street the fire department were there and they said, "Don't go back into that building!" We said, "Yeah, no kidding." No one from the Mercer Arts Center was hurt, but four people in the welfare hotel above it were killed. They had an entrance on Broadway and it was called the Broadway Central Hotel.

Lindsay was mayor then and he called Sy and said the building department could rule to save the building or tear it down. Even though Sy wasn't the building owner, he felt that the Mercer Arts Center was enough of a resource for the city that its future was his main consideration. Sy told him to tear it down. He felt that people would be so afraid of entering the building after the collapse that he would have a public relations nightmare.

The Village Voice did a detailed reporting job on the whole affair -- an outstanding job -- and absolutely nothing happened to the building owner even though the collapse was proved to be the result of long term neglect and payoffs to building inspectors by the building owner.

A new building, an NYU dorm, now satands in the middle of the block at Mercer St. and W. 3rd St. Entrance on Mercer.

Never a dull moment with Sy Kaback!

During Sy's career he had a number of side businesses or projects none of which ever made money, alas. But fortunately the air conditioning business kept being the goose that laid the golden egg.

It appears that Sy survived the physical collapse of this venture much as he did the Blotus of 1961! Unfortunately, the records of the now defunct Grand Prix Imported Cars were also apparently housed in this building and with its collapse, specific record of Grand Prix's dealings with Lotus has all but disappeared.