August 3, 1973- Mercer Art Center Collapses

On August 3rd, 1973 the Mercer collapses. The collapse occurred just after five p.m. on Friday August 3, 1973, hours before the theaters were due to be filled. Herbert Whitehead, Kay Parker, and Arthur and Peggy Sherwin were killed.

The next day, Mayor John Lindsay ordered that all pre-1901-structures in the city had to be evaluated. The victims sued the hotel owners, Matilda Edwards and Gertrude G. Latham, who sued the arts center for $2 million for making reckless alterations. It was later revealed that, in February 1969, a major wall in the basement had been removed without an official permit.

The Mercer Arts Center was named after the street it faced. The front door was at 240 Mercer Street, north of Bleecker Street and east of Washington Square. The Mercer Arts Center was founded by actor/director Gene Frankel in conjunction with Viveca Lindfors, Steina, Woedy Vasulka and Rip Torn. The Mercer Arts Center presented avant-garde plays. The Mercer Arts Center was 35,000 square feet of air-conditioned performance space. The main floor housed the Mercer Hansberry Theater and the Mercer Brecht. The second floor had four cabaret theaters and a rehearsal space. Before the Mercer Arts Center became a rock and roll legend, it was called “the Lincoln Center of Off-Broadway”

Both, 673 Broadway and 240 Mercer Street were declared unsafe and subsequently demolished. Afterwards, New York University built a 22-story 625-unit graduate law student dorm.

Christopher Coryat

A local New Yorker and artist currently studying at the The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Technology.

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