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Strike three for a historic landmark

The Gaiety Theatre has stood on Washington Street in downtown Boston for 96 years. It has hosted vaudeville, burlesque, and Harlem Renaissance acts; been added to the State Register of Historic Places and the Inventory of Historic and Archaeological Assets of the Commonwealth; and maintained its stellar acoustics, designed by theater architect Clarence Blackall, for nearly a century.

It will not survive Mayor Thomas Menino and the Boston Redevelopment Authority, however. The BRA, in its zeal to allow Kensington Investments to erect a 30-story condominium behemoth — and squash the last remnants of the Combat Zone — has succeeded in getting the final legal go-ahead for the Gaiety’s demise.

As the Phoenix reported in October (see "Curtain Call," News and Features, October 15, 2004), the destruction of the Gaiety appears to run afoul of the city’s zoning code, which protects theaters in the Midtown Cultural District. Kensington’s BRA-approved development plan, such as it is — full details still have not been disclosed — seems to break other zoning rules as well.

The Kensington project still might get nixed; its legality is being challenged by the owners of the Glass Slipper strip club, which abuts the Gaiety and would be taken by eminent domain under the plan. The Glass Slipper had asked the courts to block the destruction of the Gaiety until its own case, which goes to court in March, could be resolved — as had other interested parties, including three city councilors, all of whom were denied legal standing in the Gaiety proceedings.

So, in a pathetic coda to the theater’s colorful history, it came down to whether the loss of the Gaiety would cause a neighboring strip club irreparable harm. Francis X. Spina, associate justice of the Supreme Judicial Court, heard arguments by teleconference for less than an hour on Tuesday, according to Glass Slipper attorney Kenneth Tatarian. Less than three hours later, Spina issued a five-paragraph memo. The Glass Slipper owners, he wrote, "have not established that they are aggrieved by the decision to issue the demolition permit."

To all parties, this looks like the final word on the Gaiety. "This certainly frees [Kensington] up to take the necessary steps to demolish," Tatarian says.

Last Friday, in a lunch-hour protest, about 40 Gaiety supporters, including City Councilor Felix Arroyo, marched in a circle and held signs: BAD REDEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY; KEEP THE CULTURE IN THE CULTURAL DISTRICT; NO TOMMY TOWER. They chanted, "Kensington, don’t be a vulture, let us keep our Boston culture." But their efforts in the bitter cold went to waste. The vultures got their building.

Issue Date: January 14 - 20, 2005
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