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Actors, politicians fighting to save lots of iconic Theatre 80

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To listen to Lorcan Otway tell it, he’s in a fight for his life.

If he finds someone willing to refinance his debt, Theatre 80 — the long-lasting East Village venue where Otway has lived and worked since he was 9 years old — can be saved.

If he doesn’t, the off-Broadway theater where “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown” was born and countless stars have thrived will likely be sold at bankruptcy auction to the best bidder.

Otway is facing nearly $10.5 million in debts after COVID shutdowns left him unable to pay a loan.

“[The creditors] are actually attempting to take away every little thing I actually have ever done and every little thing I ever can be,” said Otway, 67, of the theater, pub and museum which are his life’s work in addition to his home. (He and his wife Genie, who’s in her 60s, live in a an adjoining townhouse that can be a part of the bankruptcy.)

On July 21, a judge will resolve whether to convert Otway’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy, filed in December 2020, into Chapter 7 — which can most certainly end in an auction. Neither the court-appointed trustee nor her attorney returned calls searching for comment.

As Otway scrambles to search out financial help, politicians and celebrities are rallying to his cause.

Theatre 80, a longtime performing arts space within the East Village of Manhattan, is under threat of being closed as a consequence of a loan in default after the pandemic forced space to temporarily shut down in 2020.Stephen Yang

Amongst them is Malachy McCourt, the Irish actor and bestselling creator of “A Monk Swimming” who’s a longtime friend of the Otway family. Last month, the 90-year-old became the most recent star so as to add his handprint and signature to the Walk of Fame outside Theatre 80.

“I’ll be planting my hand within the cement,” McCourt told The Post before the ceremony. “I wish we could cut the hands off the cash grubbers who try to steal the place. It’s terrible what is occurring to Lorcan.”

After filing for pandemic-induced bankruptcy in 2020, and with a $6.1 million loan in default, Otway’s debt on the adjoined buildings was sold to Maverick Real Estate Partners and the rate of interest soared.

Malachy McCourt was recently honored at Theatre 80, casting his hands and signature in cement for the venue's Walk of Fame. Malachy McCourt was recently honored at Theatre 80, casting his hands and signature in cement for the venue’s Walk of Fame. Stephen Yang

Otway believes the mobsters who helped finance his father’s acquisition of the previous jazz club and speakeasy had more compassion for the neighborhood than today’s “real estate vultures.” 

His dad, Howard, used a $64,000 loan from a Lower East Side mobster to purchase the 2 adjoined buildings at 78 and 80 St. Marks Place in 1964.

“The difference between organized crime then and real estate predators today is organized crime charged lower rates of interest,” Otway said. “They wanted you to succeed to stabilize the neighborhood. The true estate predators today are parasites. They’re killing Recent York’s cultural entities. We don’t need more banks and Starbucks. We want more theaters.”

Lorcan Otway's father bought the building, and the townhouse attached to it, in 1964 and his family has been there since.Lorcan Otway’s father bought the constructing, and the townhouse attached to it, in 1964 and his family has been there since.Stephen Yang

The spot had once been a speakeasy where Al Capone drank. It was one in all the primary places Frank Sinatra performed, in 1939, while renting a room across the corner. Harry Belafonte was an everyday within the Nineteen Fifties, when it was the Jazz Gallery.

After his dad bought it, “[We] dug out the stage by hand after I was 9 years old,” Otway recalled, explaining why an old door is now a couple of feet above the ground level of the stage. “That [door] was the one way in during Prohibition when it was a speakeasy,” he said. Patrons needed to enter a butcher shop on First Ave., ask to go to “Scheib’s place” after which cross a back alley to get to a tunnel resulting in the speakeasy’s back door.

Otway recalled his dad uncovering two safes buried within the basement. Walter Scheib, the mob underling who had sold the previous Jazz Gallery to Howard, claimed the safes belonged to him and that he had forgotten the mixtures. A secure cracker was brought in and discovered one was empty — while the second contained $2 million in gold certificates, wrapped in newspapers from 1945.

Comedian Billy Crystal was once an usher at Theatre 80.Comedian Billy Crystal was once an usher at Theatre 80.
Donaldson Collection/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

The Otway family didn’t get a cut of the recovered loot, but they eventually learned that the cash belonged to Scheib’s boss, Frank Hoffman, who made a fortune as a bootlegger during Prohibition.

Hoffman had disappeared in 1945 together with his Brazilian girlfriend and was presumed long dead. So Scheib used the cash to retire and construct the Promenade Hotel in Miami Beach. (Otway has written a book and movie treatment based on it, but said, “I don’t want to provide an excessive amount of of the story away.”)

Otway has lived there since his father bought the place and moved the family into the attached townhouse.

Joan Rivers, Joan Crawford, Gloria Swanson and Alan Cumming all cast their hands in concrete for the theater, as did Joan Rivers, Joan Crawford, Gloria Swanson and Alan Cumming all solid their hands in concrete for the theater, as did “MASH” actor Gary Burghoff (above).Stephen Yang

Growing up, Otway worked as an usher, concessionaire, projectionist and handyman. “My dad had me start on the bottom level of each job and work my way as much as management at each,” he said. 

The partitions of the theater are lined with Otway’s memories: Posters from past shows, in addition to photos of the celebrities who were in them or were pals together with his family: Katharine Hepburn, Robert De Niro, Jimmy Stewart, Claudette Colbert, Bette Davis. One other picture shows Howard holding up a tipsy Maureen Stapleton leaving her handprint in wet cement for the Walk of Fame. As Otway recalled, the Oscar-winning actress was too inebriated to sign her name.

Others whose handprints and signatures made it onto the sidewalk include Joan Rivers, Joan Crawford, Gloria Swanson and Alan Cumming. The actor who played Radar O’Reilly in “MASH,” Gary Burghoff, also left his mark, however it’s set in a cement block that has yet to be set into the sidewalk. “He hates coming to Recent York, so we needed to bring the cement to him,” Otway explained.

Among the actors who signed photos for the theater are Katharine Hepburn, Bette David and Jimmy Stewart.Among the many actors who signed photos for the theater are Katharine Hepburn, Bette David and Jimmy Stewart.Stephen Yang

Certainly one of his favorite stories is from 1969, when “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown” was drawing an A-list crowd to the way in which off-Broadway venue.

A young Billy Crystal was working as an usher and spotted legendary newscaster Walter Cronkite sitting within the front row. Crystal raced as much as Cronkite, shining a flashlight in his eyes. “Mr. Cronkite, if there’s anything I can do for you, anything in any respect, just let me know,” he said enthusiastically. 

“One thing you may do for me is get that f–king flashlight out of my face,” Cronkite retorted.

illy Crystal accidentally offended patron Walter Cronkite during a show.Billy Crystal by chance offended patron Walter Cronkite during a show.
CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

Years later, after Crystal had turn out to be a star himself, he bumped into Cronkite on a chat show. The newsman reportedly remembered the encounter and said he at all times regretted speaking so rudely to a young usher.

More recently, Otway was there when British actor Patrick Stewart made a surprise appearance seven years ago with the Improvisational Shakespeare Company. He also recalled John Lithgow and Emma Thompson filming scenes for the 2019 movie “Late Night” on the theater.

Howard died in 1994 on the age of 72. Otway’s mother, Florence, was 94 when she passed away in 2014.

A young Robert De Niro is among the stars who performed at Theatre 80.A young Robert De Niro is amongst the celebrities who performed at Theatre 80.Stephen Yang

“They died at home and we took care of them through their final illnesses,” said Otway referring to himself and wife Genie, a lawyer. (The 2 haven’t any children.) The buildings went to him and his older brother, Thomas, who has since passed away.

After attending law school at night, Otway worked for a decade as an attorney, mainly specializing in human rights — which he said was rewarding, just not financially. The theater has at all times been his passion and he returned to it full time in 2006.

In 2019, Otway took out a $6.1 million bridge loan to repay his late brother’s estate to the tune of $2.8 million and invested funds into the establishment. He said he was meeting his payments to the lender on time — until the pandemic hit.

Patrick Stewart once surprised an audience by joining a show.Patrick Stewart once surprised an audience by joining a show.Malcolm McNeill/Mirrorpix/Getty Images

The 200-seat theater, in addition to the buildings’ William Barnacle Tavern and the Museum of the American Gangster, which Otway also runs, were forced to shut. Some industrial rental units stopped paying rent. With no real income for Otway, the loan went into default and the unique lender, Hirschmark Capital, sold the bank debt to Maverick Real Estate Partners. Neither the firm’s principal David Aviram nor his attorney returned calls searching for comment.

But Otway said that, with the loan in default, his rate of interest was jacked up from 10% to 24% in early 2021 — and the unique $6.1 million bridge loan ballooned to greater than $9.2 million with penalties rapidly accumulating.

In December 2020, Oway filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which he hoped would buy time to search out a lender for a latest long-term mortgage and enable him to repay his debt, including a six-figure property tax bill. 

“Bankruptcy laws are speculated to help businesses to get time to reorganize. As an alternative they’re getting used to break me,” said Otway. “It was illegal for me to evict any of my tenants in the course of the COVID shutdown. For the general public good, I used to be not allowed to do any business. But Maverick was allowed to proceed to do business by buying the debt, and now they need to evict us.”

Sen. Brad Hoylman urged Governor Kathy Hochul to ensure a low-interest loan for the struggling business, to no avail. “It was the identical week she had okayed $840 million for a billionaire to construct a latest football stadium in Buffalo,” Otway said.

Emma Thomspon filmed scenes for Emma Thomspon filmed scenes for “Late Night” on the venue.©Amazon/Courtesy Everett Collection

Carlina Rivera, the City Councilwoman from the Lower East Side who’s running for Congress, told The Post she got here to know Theatre 80 as a high-school student when she saw a production of “Romeo and Juliet.” She’s now hoping to assist put it aside.

“It sparked a love for the performing arts that I actually have to today,” Rivera said. “As an elected official I’ve worked to attach [Otway] with resources on the City, State and Federal level, and my office has worked to support them with guidance around mission-driven financing options. I hope that we are able to proceed to call Theatre 80 our neighbors, and I will definitely keep fighting to support our beloved arts and cultural institutions.”

Owner Lorcan Otway at The William Barnacle Tavern. The bar was carved from one originally in the speakeasy that was in the space many years ago.Owner Lorcan Otway at The William Barnacle Tavern. The bar was carved from one originally within the speakeasy that was within the space a few years ago.Stephen Yang

Otway said that unless he can discover a latest backer in fairly short order, the theater, pub and museum could possibly be forced to shut its doors — and he and his wife can be evicted from their home if the July 21 court session sets a date for a forced sale. 

He added that he has recently gotten an expression of interest from a possible lender but realizes time shouldn’t be on his side. 

“It is a Recent York cultural institution,” Otway said as he looked over the bar that was carved from the one in Schreib’s speakeasy. “I hope it survives.”

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