Boston’s Gaiety Theatre: Important Hearing Today

posted by Ron Newman on March 29, 2005 at 1:45 am

BOSTON, MA — The following press release was sent by the Gaiety Theatre Friends:

“The Boston Zoning Board of Appeal (ZBA) will hold a hearing on appeals challenging the issuance of a demolition permit for Boston’s historic Gaiety Theatre.

Two Boston City Councilors, Felix Arroyo and Chuck Turner, and the Asian American Resource Workshop are the appellants.

The hearing will be held on Tuesday, March 29, at noon, in Boston City Hall Room 801.

The public and press are invited to witness and/or participate in this hearing. Please plan to come and demonstrate your support. While spoken testimony will be limited, everyone who attends will learn about the issues and receive photos of the theatre. All interested parties should submit written comments to the ZBA, at the hearing or in advance by fax 617-635-2918.

Possible outcomes include reversing the demolition permit, or mandating a replacement or substantial renovation to another existing theatre.

Members of the Appellants Groups will meet with the Press after the hearing.

More information about The Gaiety:

Lee Eiseman, 617-241-7848 or Shirley Kressel, 617-421-0835


Boston Zoning Board of Appeal regarding appeals to reverse the Inspectional Services Department demolition permit # 1965 issued for the Gaiety Theatre, 659-665 Washington Street, Ward 3, BZC # 25978 & 25989 (3/29/05).

ISD should not have issued the demolition permit because the Zoning Board of Appeal has not made the findings required in Boston Zoning Code Article 38-21.2. Article 38-21.2 prohibits Change of Use or Occupancy of any theatre in the Midtown Cultural District without specific ZBA findings that the change will not ³unduly diminish the historic character of the Midtown Cultural District as a cultural, entertainment, and theatrical showcase. The ZBA has not yet reviewed this issue nor made these findings. Nor has any court ruled on any of the issues here presented, although Massachusetts Land Court ruled that certain appellants lacked standing to sue in that venue to prevent demolition.

The developer acknowledges that the project is subject to Article 38-21.2 but seeks to avoid the Article’s theatre protection provisions by asserting that the Gaiety is not legally a theatre. However, this is refuted by ISD’s own records, including the demolition permit itself, which classify the Gaiety as a theatre. History and common sense also contradict this claim.

When ISD issued the demolition permit, it reportedly assumed that the project’s designation as a Planned Development Area overrides all zoning, including Article 38-21.2. However, Article 80C-9 of the Zoning Code, which allows the creation of PDAs, states: Nothing in this Article shall be construed to limit the power of the Board of Appeal to grant Zoning Relief for Proposed Projects in Planned Development Areas…

If ISD issued the demolition permit in violation of the Boston Zoning Code, the ZBA must reverse it. If the ZBA subsequently decides to grant a Change of Use or Occupancy after considering evidence regarding the criteria set forth in Article 38-21.2, the code requires that the developer build a replacement theater or rehabilitate an existing theater.

An alternative development proposal preserving the Theatre would provide more construction jobs, more permanent jobs, and more economic development (related businesses, jobs and customers) than the current proposal, and would bring residents and tourists to the area to make a vibrant 24-hour neighborhood. The revitalized Gaiety Theatre could become an economic engine that is part of the city’s creative economy.

Theaters in this post

Comments (16)

br91975 on March 29, 2005 at 12:23 pm

Any word on how this hearing went today?

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on March 29, 2005 at 12:44 pm

Unfortunately, I was not able to attend this. I’ll try to talk to Lee later today or tomorrow if he doesn’t send me an e-mail update.

jim on March 29, 2005 at 4:41 pm

Can anyone tell me if the theatre is still standing or if it has been completely demolished? Thanks!

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on March 29, 2005 at 5:06 pm

It is still standing though I’m told there has been considerable interior demolition.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on March 30, 2005 at 3:26 am

From today’s Boston Herald:

Theater demo issue spurs ire at City Hall
By Kimberly Atkins
Wednesday, March 30, 2005 – Updated: 04:51 AM EST

A scheduled hearing on the demolition of the Gaiety Theatre in Chinatown turned into a protest rally yesterday after residents who came to testify were told the board would not address the issue.

Dozens of residents, joined by city councilors Maura Hennigan, Chuck Turner and Felix Arroyo, came to urge the Zoning Board of Appeals to revoke a permit allowing developers to demolish the historic theater to make way for a housing complex.

But when ZBA member Robert Shortsleeve said the issue would not be heard because the board did not have jurisdiction, the residents marched down to the city’s legal department for an explanation.

“We were locked out” of the corporate counsel’s office, said Hennigan, a candidate for mayor. “Security guards were there. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

After the residents went back to the zoning board hearing room, city officials told councilors that the hearing would go on, but the board would not vote on the matter.

Instead, members would take it under advisement and refer it to the legal department to determine the board’s standing.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on March 30, 2005 at 3:46 am

From today’s Boston Globe:

Tensions flare over bid to save theater

By Madison Park, Globe Correspondent  |  March 30, 2005

About 40 community members confronted officials at City Hall in a last-ditch effort to save Gaiety Theatre from demolition yesterday.

The activists initially demanded a hearing before the Zoning Board of Appeal but were rejected.

‘'We were told they weren’t going to hear us. They said that the lawyer of the city had told them not to,“ said Councilor at Large Felix D. Arroyo, who accompanied the group.

The decision angered the group, and tensions escalated.

‘'There were several members of the antidevelopment group that were shouting, and security had been called,“ said Councilor James Kelly, who has favored development on the land where the theater is. ’‘They came close to making an arrest. They were being unruly, shouting, and being disruptive. The chair was asking them to be respectful.”

The activists, joined by four city councilors, marched to the city’s Corporation Counsel office, demanding an explanation for not being allowed to appear before the zoning board. They stood outside the office door until the chief of staff and corporation counsel, Marita Hopkins, met with them.

Hopkins said the activists were initially not allowed to speak because of legal issues. ‘'They had no standing to be before the board. This has gone before the courts; they [the board members] were being guided by the court decision,“ she said.

After Hopkins convened with zoning board members, the board permitted presentations from four city councilors, two speakers from the opposition, and a representative of Kensington Investment Co.

Kensington wants to raze the 97-year-old theater and construct a 346-unit apartment building near the corner of Washington and LaGrange streets in Chinatown. Opponents say the Gaiety is a historic landmark.

‘'It was really infuriating, and it was disappointing,“ said Ching-In Chen, director of the Asian American Resource Workshop, referring to the initial decision not to hear activists.

The zoning board gave no indication when it would make a final decision

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on March 30, 2005 at 3:53 am

Within the next day or two I expect to also see an article in the weekly Boston Phoenix, as well as another press release or e-mail from Lee Eiseman. I’ll keep you all posted.

sdoerr on March 30, 2005 at 2:00 pm

What a shame..

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on March 31, 2005 at 5:14 am

After the hearing, I received the following e-mail from Lee Eiseman. His comments are in plain text, with additional comments in bold from Shirley Kressel:

ZBA Shoots Self in Foot

Yesterday The Gaiety might or might not have been a theater, but a Boston City Hall hearing room certainly was. At 1:15 the Zoning Board of Appeal convened what was expected to be a hearing appealing the issuance of a demolition permit for The Gaiety. In the room were the appellants, City Councilors Chuck Turner, Felix Arroyo and The Asian American Resource Workshop’s director Chin-In. In addition, prepared to speak in support were City Councilors Hennigan, and Yancey (Stephen Murphy reportedly having sent a letter in support) as well as close to over 50 supporters of various stripes.

Imagine our surprise when ZBA chairman, Robert Shortsleeve announced that on the orders of the City Corporation Counsel, they were refusing to hear the case. Bedlam broke out and City Hall security officers were called. The appellants and their supporters refused to leave and demanded to be heard.  They asked to be shown an official document from the Corporation Counsel stating the leagal grounds for denying a hearing. Mr. Shortsleeve refused to budge from he repeated assertion that ZBA  did not have juristiction to hear the case, and that it had already been decided by courts of law. Members of the public pointed out that the case was on the agenda, had been noticed, and needed to be heard People pointed out that it could not have been decided in any court because courts won’t take cases until all administrative avenues have been exhausted â€" and a challenge to an ISD permit must be taken first to ZBA before it can be appealed in court.  When the police were about to drag Shirley Kressel, director of Association of Boston Neighborhoods from the room, Chuck Turner stepped between her and the security officer.  He and the other City Counselors had agreed to walk to corporation Counsel’s office and find out directly where this order to deny a hearing originated, and on what legal grounds.

We then walked en-masse to the Law department to ask Merita Hopkins, the Corporation Council to explain her opinion. The door to the Law department was bolted and a policeman was standing guard. Trembling officials inside the door refused to open it for Councilors, Hennigan, Turner and Arroyo. Three minutes later, Ms Hopkins, who happens also to be the mayor’s chief of staff â€" a direct and serious conflict of interest, as Corporation Counsel works for the entire City,  and not just for the executive branch, (This might be just what city council needed to get the courts to allow them to hire their own lawyer!) arrived on the scene and claimed to have no knowledge of her department’s supposed decision in the case. She asked for a moment to be closeted with Shirtsleeve from ZBA and emerged with the decision that a hearing would be held after all, although only two other speakers would be allowed to testify in addition to the three appellants.

At 2:15 the hearing took place. Lee Eiseman, clerk of Gaiety Theatre Friends, Ching-In of AARW, a representative of the Chinese Residents Association and City Councilors Turner,  Hennigan, Yancey and Arroyo spoke in behalf of our position that The Gaiety remains a theater and that the ZBA needs to deny demolition. Hennigan asked unsuccessfully, that ZBA put a stay on the demolition to prevent destruction during ZBA deliberations.

Councilor Kelly stood up to speak against the appeals.  He told the board that he had not been in any theatre called the Gaiety in all his years here (he later was informed by the Gaiety Friends that it was called the Publix Theatre in his day, and he reluctantly realized that they were one and the same theatre, and that he had been there).  He told the councilors of color that they have plenty of problems in their own district and suggested that they take care of those first (illustrating one reason they still have so many problems in their own district…)  He parroted the Kensington line that a change of use permit had been issued for the theater in 1988 so it wasn’t even legally a theatre since then (Shirley interrupted to notify the room that this was a three-year temporary permit, which she later showed a disbelieving Kelly, adding that the developer had put him up to saying things that are wrong without telling him the truth.)  He professed his profound concern for the affordable housing units Kensington would provide to this desperately needy Chinatown community (which burst into audible giggling, evoking a threat of “no more hearing for you” from ZBA chairman Shortsleeve).  He talked about the need for the jobs and economic development (Shirley later suggested he speak to Joe Nigro, who had only last week agreed with her that Kensington was not going to build anything on that site any time soon).  Shirley also revealed to him the two floors adding 12 large condo units Kensington had secretly drawn on their half-completed schematic drawings.  The lawlessness of adding two stories didn’t seem to sink in, but he did seem to rejoice that the building would now produce twelve more “housing units.”  Desperately needed by those desperate Chinatown folks.  Even at three million dollars each.

Mathew Kiefer, the lawyer for Kensington Investments the Gaiety’s owner spoke in opposition, repeating all the misleading statements and half-truths (i.e., half-lies) that he knows no one on the board will be able to, or care to, challenge.

The ZBA will send the issue to the city law department (yes, Merita Hopkins) for recommendation.  We don’t know when the decision will be issued.  We can expect no reversal of the permit; all that we’ll learn is the cooked-up legal basis, whereupon a lawsuit should be filed.  We need a pro-bono lawyer.  Please help us find one!

Clearly, the ZBA would have preferred not to make a decision, because decision’s can be appealed. Their refusal to hear the case would have needed to have been met with a writ of mandamus which might not have succeeded in forcing them to act.

We expect a denial. Then we will come to our friends for help in an appeal which may or may not save The Gaiety, but might very likely send a message about lawlessness at City Hall. It might also result in saving another theater or neighborhood.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on March 31, 2005 at 5:20 am

From today’s Boston Phoenix:

Still fighting for the Gaiety’s life

As the wrecking ball literally approaches the 96-year-old Gaiety Theatre on Washington Street â€" an adjacent building is being knocked down first â€" the historic structure’s supporters are trying yet again to prevent its destruction, which will soon take place to clear the way for the 30-story Kensington Place condominiums (see “Curtain Call,” News and Features, October 15, 2004). After trying to win over the Boston Redevelopment Authority, the Inspectional Services Division, Land Court, and the Supreme Judicial Court, the Save-the-Gaiety activists, led by several city councilors, secured a hearing before the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) on Tuesday. Close to 50 people showed up. Though the odds of the ZBA rescuing the theater appeared slim at best, at least the seven board members would hear the argument.

Which is why the supporters caused a fine ruckus in City Hall when ZBA chair Robert Shortsleeve abruptly announced, “I’m dismissing it,” before anyone got to speak. The ZBA’s lawyer in these matters, the city’s corporation counsel, had advised him that the issue had no standing in this venue, he said. So go home.

As Shortsleeve tried to move on to the next agenda item, the stunned supporters refused to let it drop. “Shame on you!” one called. “You’re the servants of the BRA, aren’t you?” another heckled, to great applause. Security was called. Eventually word got to the councilors, who had returned to their offices, and they made their way back to the eighth-floor hearing room. Chuck Turner arrived first, followed by Maura Hennigan, Felix Arroyo, and Charles Yancey. They demanded an explanation of the jurisdiction question. Shortsleeve refused to give it. So they decided to get it directly from the city’s corporation counsel, Merita Hopkins. The councilors led a parade of citizens to her office (once they figured out where it was), including members of the Back Bay Neighborhood Association, the Chinese Progressive Association, and residents of the Ritz-Carlton condominiums that abut the future Kensington. They were met there by a locked door, with security guards on both sides. Turner, true to form, was ready to start a sit-in.

Hopkins herself was not actually inside, and when she did arrive, she denied having advised the ZBA at all. “You are the corporate counsel,” Yancey said. “Presumably someone in the corporate counsel’s office has been advising them,” Hopkins replied. She went to confer with Shortsleeve, who was minutes away from ending the board’s business for the day and getting off clean. After a 10-minute closed-door discussion, he agreed to allow testimony, and decide on jurisdiction later.

So Gaiety Friends leader Lee Eiseman, Ching-In Chen of the Asian American Resource Workshop, and the four city councilors got to make their pitch. In a nutshell, they claim that Boston’s zoning laws expressly forbid destruction of a theater â€" which the Gaiety clearly is â€" in the designated Midtown Cultural District. So, the ZBA should revoke the demolition permit.

Incurring the wrath of the crowd, Councilor Jim Kelly spoke against that idea, as did Matthew Kiefer, a legal representative of Kensington. Not that it matters much â€" even die-hards among the Gaiety supporters don’t expect the ZBA to step in. But at least they got heard on Tuesday

Tom10 on March 31, 2005 at 5:51 am

Ron: Thanks for these amazing posts. Is it possible to get a picture of how the theater looks today with the adjacent building demolished or under demolition?

jim on March 31, 2005 at 9:03 am

I know this is a longshot, but I’m looking for someone in the Boston area who could videotape the exterior and neighborhood of the Gaiety before it’s demolished. I plan to show this amazing fight to save the theater in a documentary I’m making. If you live in the Boston area and have access to any type of video camera and want to help me (I live in Nebraska, so can’t come to Boston before the theater is most likely demolished), please email me at:

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on April 4, 2005 at 4:51 pm

From today’s issue of Sampan, the Chinatown newspaper:

Fireworks Ignite Over Gaiety Theatre

Real-life Theatre Erupts with Zoning Board of Appeals

By Ann Chang

What was scheduled as a routine hearing last Tuesday before the Zoning Board of Appeal on the determination of the Gaiety Theatre�s status, turned into a heated confrontation between the ZBA and proponents to save the theater from demolition, including four city councilors.

The hearing was scheduled for 12:30 pm. At 1:45 pm, ZBA chairman Robert Shortsleeve announced to the crowd of over 60 people that the board would not hear the appeal. The stunned audience erupted into cries of �servants for the BRA� and �rump board.� City councilor Chuck Turner demanded to know why. �This is an advertised hearing,� he said. �How can you not have the hearing?�

Shortsleeve stated: �Corporation Counsel has said we have no standing on this matter.� Ignoring taunts from the crowd, he tried to continue with other scheduled hearings. It was not to be. City counilor Maura Hennigan asked: �Where is Counsel�s letter stating that you have no standing on this matter?�

�There was no letter,� Shortsleeve declared, further inflaming the Gaiety supporters, who had come to oppose the theater�s demolition by Kensington Investment Co., the owner. Kensington wants to demolish the Gaiety to build a 30-story apartment building, called Kensington Place, along Washington Street.

Hennigan then led the Gaiety supporters, including city councilors Chuck Turner and Felix Arroyo, to City Hall law offices, only to find the doors there locked with two security guards inside and four others out in the hall. Hennigan demanded the right to see the counsel responsible for the hearing�s closure.

The head of security said only councilors would be allowed inside. Former Corporation Counsel Marita Hopkins appeared, stating she didn�t know why the hearing was closed. She promised to find a solution, but that first the proponents had to return to the hearing area.

Hopkins arranged for the ZBA to hold the hearing but warned that it wouldn�t make a decision; instead, it would take the case �under advisement� with a decision made at a latter, non-specified date.

As the hearing reconvened, Shortsleeve tried to limit testimony to two speakers but relented when told that five city councilors were there. Four — Charles Yancey, Hennigan, Arroyo, and Turner —were in favor of the Gaiety, and one — James Kelly —opposed it. Shortsleeve did limit the non-elected speakers to two persons from the Chinatown community. Ching-In Chen, of the Asian American Resource Workshop, testified that the Gaiety is an integral part of the Chinatown Master Plan and was slated to become a cultural community center. If de-molished, she said, it would have to be replaced according to cultural preservation rules in force.

Turner stressed that the demolition represented ec-onomic expediency over law. �The Inspectional Ser-vices Division issued a permit for demolition without the required ZBA hearing,� he said. Arroyo added that the ZBA had a duty to review the master plan and see that Kensing-ton Place was not in the community�s best interests. Hennigan tried to get the ZBA to put a stay on the demolition until its decision was made.

Kelly stated that the development, especially affordable housing, was good for the neighborhood�s economy.

Matt Kiefer, counsel for the developer, stated that the demolition approval was in hand in 2001 after it was found that the Gaiety was no longer a designated theater. �Four city and three state agencies have approved the [Kensington Place] development,� he said. �There have been court [land] trials, appellate and supreme court findings all in favor of [it].� He agreed with Shortsleeve that the ZBA didn�t have standing in the matter. �I am confident in the…determination from the Corporation Counsel�

Shortsleeve moved to send the matter to Counsel for a �speedy determination.� All voted in favor.

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on April 21, 2005 at 3:29 am

Demolition of the Gaiety has begun. I don’t know if it started Tuesday or yesterday, but when I walked down LaGrange Street last night at 9:15, I saw that big chunks had been taken out of the roof and the south wall.

donwarnersaklad on May 1, 2006 at 3:15 am

What exactly are the matters that the papers concern
that are referred to in these docket items?
0554 ?…

0555 ?…

0556 ?…

The information is not available at

          • quote – – – – -
            City Council Meeting Agendas
            View the Agendas from a specific week: 4/23/2006
            View link

Reports from public officers and others
Notice was received from the City Clerk in accordance with
Chapter 6 of the Ordinances of 1979
re: actions taken by the Mayor on
papers acted upon by the City Council at its meeting on
March 22, 2006.

Notice was received from the City Clerk in accordance with
Chapter 6 of the Ordinances of 1979
re: actions taken by the Mayor
on papers acted upon by the City Council at its meeting on
March 29, 2006.

Notice was received from the City Clerk in accordance with
Chapter 6 of the Ordinances of 1979
re: actions taken by the Mayor
on papers acted upon by the City Council at its meeting on
April 5, 2006.

City Council Meeting Agendas
View the Agendas from a specific week: 4/23/2006

Or, search the Minutes!

Order of business for
matters presented to the City Clerk prior to
12:00 on Tuesday, April 25, 2006
for consideration by the City Council at a regular meeting on
Wednesday, April 26 at 11:30 AM

The following were received:
View link
– – – – – quoted – – – – –

Ron Newman
Ron Newman on May 1, 2006 at 3:45 am

I have no idea why you posted this here.

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