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Still standing

The empty but historic Gaiety Theatre still stands, even though developer Kensington Investment Company has a demolition permit from Boston’s Inspectional Services Department, and Land Court judge Keith C. Long decided on December 21 not to impose an injunction against the demolition (see "Kensington Wins Another Round," This Just In, December 24, 2004). The owners of the Glass Slipper — which faces seizure by eminent domain under the Kensington plan — petitioned the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) on December 30. This Monday, the SJC decided to exercise its option to take up the case. Justice Francis X. Spina will hear arguments on Tuesday, January 11, at 10 a.m. at One Beacon Street.

Kensington’s owners have agreed not to demolish the 96-year-old Gaiety until Spina issues a ruling. Each delay brings closer the March 21 trial date for the Glass Slipper’s main case, in which the club will argue that Kensington’s development plan is illegal because the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) broke the city’s zoning laws to authorize it. Kensington wants to demolish the Gaiety while awaiting that trial; the Glass Slipper owners (and others hoping to preserve the theater) want the court to tell developers to wait.

The Land Court found that the rapid demolition of the Gaiety would not harm the Glass Slipper. The club owners, in their appeal of this ruling, point out that with the Gaiety gone, they would lose an important part of the legal argument they plan to make against the development plan at the March 21 trial: that the BRA is prohibited from allowing a theater to be destroyed in that district, and that the Gaiety building should still be considered a theater.

Gaiety-preservation activists, like Steve Jerome, are hoping that even if Spina is unsympathetic to the appeal, he might still force Kensington to wait for the trial. To help convince the judge that people out there care about the old building, he and other supporters are holding a Save the Gaiety rally this Friday, January 7, at noon at the corner of Washington and Boylston Streets in Chinatown.

Meanwhile, a new group of supporters has joined the Gaiety fan club: African-American historians. These include Barbara Lewis, the new director of the William Monroe Trotter Institute for the Study of Black Culture at UMass — and former chair of the theater department at the University of Kentucky in Lexington. She wrote a letter to Mayor Thomas Menino, and another published in the Boston Globe, explaining the Gaiety’s historical significance as one in a string of theaters across the country that catered to touring black entertainers in the early 20th century. "Traditionally, the Trotter has taken stands on issues of economic interest, not cultural interest," Lewis says, but she felt too strongly about the Gaiety to stay quiet. Adelaide Cromwell, professor emerita of sociology and Afro-American studies at Boston University, also penned a recent letter to Globe extolling the importance of the Gaiety in black cultural history.

The two professors are working to muster more African-American Bostonians to the Gaiety’s defense. Lewis plans to attend Friday’s rally, and hopes to bring more faces of color with her.

Issue Date: January 7 - 13, 2005
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