St. Ann’s Warehouse cuts the ribbon on new home

October 7, 2015 By Cody Brooks Special to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle
A view of St. Ann's theater from Water Street. Eagle photos by Albin Lohr-Jones
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Thunderous applause inaugurated the final grand opening of St. Ann’s Warehouse in DUMBO on Tuesday morning, celebrating a long-running theater in Brooklyn.

St. Ann’s has been an institution in the borough for 36 years, yet has never had a permanent home. Previously operating out of churches and rent-free spaces, the theater had a ceremonial ribbon-cutting on Tuesday at the renovated Tobacco Warehouse in DUMBO, its first permanent location.

The mood was undoubtedly festive, and not only because of the future the theater holds — but also because of what it took to secure it. Speakers included St. Ann’s board members and city officials, who explained the lawsuits and other obstacles that ensued in the process of securing the Tobacco Warehouse, a DUMBO icon from the 1850s. Out of $36 million in renovations, $16 million was from public funds. The National Park Service had removed the Tobacco Warehouse from the list of federally designated parklands so St. Ann’s could take over, but the decision was contested in a federal court case by several preservation and community organizations before St. Ann’s ultimately won.

Stepping to the podium to speak, St. Ann’s founder Susan Feldman was met with a standing ovation and ear-piercing whistles. Since 1979, Feldman has shepherded the theater; she was hired by the New York Landmarks Conservancy to find a new use for the old St. Ann and the Holy Trinity Church located in Brooklyn Heights. Since then, Feldman has developed a reputation for championing her cause to make good theater possible. Theater Director Phyllida Lloyd noted in a New York Times profile on Feldman that the question is not about what will make the theater rich or famous, but rather, “Is this going to change lives?” City Councilmember Stephen Levin echoed the praise by proclaiming at the event that “Susan Feldman has guts.”

The proof is in the lineup of St. Ann’s first season in the Tobacco Warehouse. Lloyd, who directed “The Iron Lady” starring Meryl Streep, will direct Shakespeare’s “Henry IV” at St. Ann’s, but with an all-female cast in an effort to open up Shakespeare to women. Harriet Walter, described in The Guardian as “one of the greatest Shakespearians alive,” will lead the cast.

Renovations were headed by Jonathan Marvel of Marvel Architects. Feldman wanted to preserve as much of the building as she could, including the pre-war brick walls. Marvel explained in Feldman’s New York Times profile that “it takes a very special designer to not design.” The design team chose to leave the space wide open and use a system of catwalks and massive curtains to change the size of the theater at will, allowing St. Ann’s to host any size of event.

Deputy Borough President Diana Reyna spoke at the ribbon cutting, noting that the renovations of St. Ann’s amazingly “came in on time and on budget,” something New Yorkers are not particularly used to hearing. Reyna described St. Ann’s as “the true jewel and crown of Brooklyn Bridge Park.” Feldman hoped the sentiment will last, ending her speech with “to the next 50 years!”

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