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Tuesday, May 30, 2006

White Barn Theatre Property Sold for $4.8 Million

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Lucille Lortel 1900-1999: Her White Barn Theatre property sold. File photo

A New Canaan-based company purchased the former White Barn Theatre property, which is on the Westport and Norwalk border, for $4.8 million.

The sale of the 18-acre property was recorded in the Westport Town Clerk’s office last week.

The documents state the Lucille Lortel Foundation—which is based in New York City—sold the property to 78 Cranberry Road LLC. Foundation officials did not immediately return phone calls.

Most of the property—15.5 acres—is in Norwalk with the remaining 2.5 acres in Westport.

Last November, Gov. M. Jodi Rell was in Norwalk to announce a grant to a local group to purchase the former White Barn Theatre property.

The property has been discussed as a potential place for development since 2003, and neighborhood groups in both Norwalk and Westport have opposed such plans.

Matthew Mandell, Partrick Wetlands Preservation Fund director, who was among those against such a development, said foundation officials had the opportunity to preserve Lortel’s legacy in her love of the theater and the love of the land, but they chose not to do so.

The 148-seat White Barn Theatre was founded in 1947 by Lortel, a producer and arts philanthropist, to develop the talents of new playwrights, composers, actors, directors and designers. Lortel died in 1999.

In its more than 50-year history, the theater premiered works by, among many others, Eugene Ionesco, Sean O’Casey, Murray Schisgal, Paul Zindel, Terrence McNally, Edward Albee, Samuel Beckett, John Whiting, Ugo Betti, Archibald MacLeish, Langston Hughes and Adrienne Kennedy.

Lortel bought her Connecticut house and property in 1938 and moved a barn onto her land because she wanted to raise horses.

But restrictions on feed during World War II made that impossible, according to an article in the Hartford Courant in 2000.

At a party in 1945, Danny Kaye suggested that she turn the barn into a little playhouse and a few years later she did just that, the newspaper reported.

“It started when a playwright came and he couldn’t get his play produced and she gave him a reading,” Vincent Curcio, the longtime general manager of the theater, told the newspaper.

“It grew from an impulse, really, and turned eventually into a vision.”

The Westport Library contains a room donated by Lortel when the building opened in 1987.

It is filled with her collection of photographs, Playbills, reviews, contracts, correspondence and publicity from her Westport theater as well as an Off Broadway one in New York—the former Theatre de Lys, which was renamed the Lucille Lortel Theatre.

Last December, Westport Country Playhouse officials announced they had received a $2 million capital grant from the Lucille Lortel Foundation to name in perpetuity the building adjacent to the theater as “The Lucille Lortel White Barn Center.”  (See WestportNow Dec. 6, 2005)

In addition, the Lucille Lortel Foundation pledged a $500,000 operating grant over 10 years to create The White Barn Theatre Program at the Playhouse.

Posted 05/30/06 at 05:04 PM


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This is truely a sad day for both Norwalk and Westport. Even with the support of the Governor, the City of Norwalk and the residents of both Norwalk and Westport,  this most beautiful property and charming playhouse will not be preserved.  SHAME ON YOU Foundation…you greedy people!!!!
Rhoda Berke

Posted by rhoda berke on May 31, 2006 at 03:04 PM | #

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