The fate of the Coconut Grove Playhouse, the historic theater that's been shuttered for six years and that's now facing foreclosure, may be uncertain. But the fate of its former contents -- historic Playbills, costumes, video recordings, and other historic memorabilia -- has been secured.
Actors' Playhouse and the University of Miami's special collections division have rescued over 800 boxes worth of the artifacts from the moldy, theft-prone playhouse, according to Florida Theater on Stage.
The items were removed from the playhouse in October of last year, according to Theater on Stage. Its photos, Playbills, and other paper records are undergoing a restoration by UM special collections that could take as long as three years and cost more than $100,000. Its props, costumes, and salvagable equipment will go to Actors' Playhouse for possible future use in its own productions.
The Coconut Grove Playhouse has languished in a state of limbo while city government, state government, investors, and its board members, whom many blame for the financial failure of the theater, fought over its ownership. The state of Florida has the right to resume ownership of the building due to a clause requiring the theater to be used for theatrical productions. But the state has determined to sell the building at fair market value, opening up the bidding to developers who would tear the structure down. And earlier this month, Miami company GH Mortgage filed for foreclosure on the building, further complicating matters.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Miami New Times's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Miami's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Meanwhile, conditions inside the structure have rapidly deteriorated. Actors' Playhouse Executive Producing Director Barbara Stein told Theater on Stage, "The theater had been vacant for so many years with apparent vagrants camping out at times. The electrical was not on in all areas making it spooky to locate materials that could be salvaged. Humidity had poorly affected costumes, but we were able to save some costumes that were unusual and had little damage." Leaky roofs caused water damage, and squatters had lit fires inside, neglected to flush toilets, and bashed computer monitors. Even with the $2 million earmarked by the city for the playhouse's restoration, cleaning up the building would be an unenviable task.
But even if the building itself isn't safe, its memory is. UM manuscript librarian Beatrice Skokan told Theater on Stage, "Two hundred years from now, I want these [artifacts] to be available."
Follow Ciara LaVelle on Twitter @ciaralavelle.