Six months after the CHARAS/El Bohio Community Center reopened the Bimbo Rivas Theatre during the New York City Fringe Festival, a court trial is underway to determine the outcome of eviction proceedings aimed at removing CHARAS from the building where the theatre has been located for more than two decades.
The former PS 64 has been the home of CHARAS for 20 years and was sold to developer Gregg Singer, despite CHARAS' opposition in 1998. CHARAS representatives are expected to testify as early as Jan. 23. Testimony has been heard since Jan. 18 at 111 Centre St., Room 1164, when Singer took the stand. The case moves to 80 Centre St. Room 122 on Jan. 23.
As reported on June 29 last year, Present Company artistic director John Clancy and CHARAS Community Center organizer Susan Howard reopened CHARAS' Bimbo Rivas Theatre as one of the five Fringe venues at CHARAS. Located in the facility's basement, the theatre is named for Bimbo Rivas, a popular Lower East Side poet and playwright. The Latino Theatre Workshop was conducted in the Bimbo Rivas for several years before problems with the ventilation system forced it to close.
As the long term occupant of the former New York Public School 64, CHARAS claims it has a right to buy the building and the group has demonstrated every time Singer has attempted to show it.
The squabbling over control of the building has always been intense but never more so than when CHARAS founder and Lower East Side Democratic district leader Armando Perez was beaten to death on April 4, 1999 outside his estranged wife's apartment in Queens. That unsolved case has served to galvanize the Lower East Side arts community, especially due to the perception, which CHARAS has certainly not discouraged, that Perez was struck down while fighting with "City Hall." Singer brought eviction proceedings on July 20, 1999, a year to the date from his purchase of the building at auction for $3.15M. CHARAS' court room strategy is based on proving the center's value as an integral aspect of the community while Singer is seeking to minimize the center's effective uses of the space in favor of his own.
To these mutually exclusive ends, Singer is bringing in witnesses from the city's administrative offices to testify. For its part, CHARAS has secured a civil rights attorney and is contemplating tapping liberal support from such celebrities as actress Susan Sarandon, who has spoken out and demonstrated on the center's behalf.
— By Murdoch McBride