Once a Sign, Now a Streak of Red Paint

The theater where a young Bob Dylan is said to have written "Blowin' in the Wind" in 1962 has had its historic sign painted over, upsetting some neighborhood preservationists.

Until last week, building number 11-13 on Minetta Street in the West Village bore a prominent sign that identified The Fat Black Pussycat Theater in a bold black font.

The building no longer hosts the theater -- it's now home to Panchito's Mexican Restaurant, which took over the space after the theater closed down after two years of operation in the early '60s.

But now, a coat of red paint covers the theater's entrance sign and adds to the Panchito's red, black, and white color palate that decorates the front of the restaurant.

Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, said it was Panchito's right to paint over the theater's sign, but believes that it marks a sad trend in the neighborhood.

"Watching historic sites disappear before our eyes is very frustrating," he said in a phone interview. "This is a historic artifact."

Berman said Dylan's connection made the theater known throughout the world. Up until last week, when the theater's sign still was in place, tourists would stop by to snap photos.

Beyond Bob Dylan, the theater also hosted performances by Richie Havens, Bill Cosby and Mama Cass, said Berman.

Berman said for the past five years, he and his organization have worked to landmark the immediate neighborhood where the building stands, which Berman referred to as the South Village.

The wait, they said, has been frustrating.

With landmark status, owners would have to give public notification of planned building modifications and would have to participate in hearings to discuss the plans with historians and members of the community.

The application process is ongoing. The city Landmarks Preservation Commission, the agency that handles these requests, did not respond to requests for comment.

Meanwhile, Berman said he the neighborhood has lost the chance to preserve several important historic buildings, such as the Provincetown Playhouse and Apartments, the Sullivan Street Playhouse, and a pre-Civil War townhouse that once stood on Bleecker Street.

"Every key historic site in the neighborhood might be lost," said Berman.

Bob Engelhardt bought the building back in 1963, and said in an interivew that The Fat Black Pussycat Theater has no reason to be considered a landmark. In its two years of business, he said, it was a dodgy location and an "awful place."

"You went to the Pussycat if you wanted to smoke pot, buy drugs, get in a fight ...or if you wanted to pick up underage girls," he said. Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:"Table Normal"; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-priority:99; mso-style-parent:""; mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt; mso-para-margin-top:0in; mso-para-margin-right:0in; mso-para-margin-bottom:10.0pt; mso-para-margin-left:0in; line-height:115%; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:11.0pt; font-family:"Calibri","sans-serif"; mso-ascii-font-family:Calibri; mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-hansi-font-family:Calibri; mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-bidi;}

Engelhardt said painting over the sign was his own right and was not meant to stir neighborhood controversy.

"It had nothing to do with the Pussycat, as such," he said. "It didn't go with the building. We are not landmarked and hopefully never will be."

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