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133 Second Avenue: The Negro Ensemble Company.

  • William B. Harris - Walking Tour

The Negro Ensemble Company premiered Samm-Art Williams’ Home at St. Mark’s Playhouse December 13, 1979. William Harris probably saw the play early the next year. His review appeared in The SoHo Weekly March 12, 1980. That may also have been when he acquired his copy of the 1978 script. Harris described Home as “a fairy-tale-like celebration of humanity,” “the best play this company has performed in years.” Others thought so, too; on May 7, 1980, it moved to the Cort Theater at 238 West 48th Street and the play and its lead actor, Charles Brown, received Tony nominations that year. The Negro Ensemble Company became the forerunner of other companies that chose scripts about the Black experience and employed people of color behind the scenes and on stage. The venue in which Harris saw the play was also on a frontier, reflecting changing uses of buildings along that block. Originally 131 and 133 Second Avenue were separate homes. In 1848, lawyer Eugene Keteltas purchased 133 and moved his family in. An 1886 news report indicated part of Number 133 had become an office where unemployed women could seek work, but other news reports have Keteltas descendants living in the building until 1918. When they moved out, the building became a factory in the 1920s, and space for shops and a movie theatre in the 1930. In 1938, M.K. Wetmore, a Keteltas descendant, sold 133 to 37 St. Mark’s Place Corporation, a developer that immediately announced plans to convert the building. Building plans were filed in 1944, at which point 131 and 133 were combined to create the present building, which originally housed shops and a movie theatre. The Negro Ensemble Company moved in during August 1967, and out in 1980, during which time it occupied space on the third floor. A 1996 certificate of occupancy described the building lot as returning to its residential roots, with three floors of apartments above two floors of commercial space.