Theatre: Free for All

Stuck away in Manhattan's drowsing East 27th Street is an old, cuckoo-clock, three-story building. Once it was a haunted private house, later, among other things, a Knights of Columbus hall, an Armenian church. Since 1915 it has been a theatre, since 1923 (except for one season) a free one.

Manhattan's only free theatre, which a Broadway wisecracker once termed "the flophouse of the drama," came billowing out of the imagination of a frankly stage-struck playwright named Butler Davenport, who looks like Edwin Booth (see cut). Taking over the building in 1915 left Davenport $3.17. But $3.17 floated plays by Shakespeare, Ibsen,...

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