New owner can build up to ten stories along Fulton Street corridor
By Nico Simino
After years of neglect, family squabbles, so-called squatters, and partial structural collapse, the Slave Theater, 1215 Fulton Avenue, will be auctioned off by the city, as this news paper goes to press.
The theater, which was mired in all of these problems and more, is finally close to finding an actual owner after the previous owner, Judge John L. Phillips, lost it due to mental deterioration.
Since 2001 the theater has been in languish over who actually owned the property. Several people have claimed rights to the property, but the state recognizes Rev. Samuel Boykin, Judge Phillips nephew, as the legitimate owner.
Clarence Hardy, the self-described chief of the Slave Theater who has been there since the mid-90’s, and Rev. Paul Lewis, who held twice-weekly services on the second floor as part of his Messengers for Christ World Healing Center, have both at times also claimed ownership.
Hardy and Lewis were both accused of squatting by Boykin, who claims he has been trying to get both Hardy and the church evicted from the property for several years, and spending in excess of $100,000 in doing it.
In recent months, Boykin succeeded in getting both Hardy and Lewis evicted, but now the property is going to auction because there is about $190,000 in liens and about $2 million in back taxes and other fees owed – neither of which Boykin can pay.
Now that the property is in foreclosure, the city has taken it back and will auction it off to the highest bidder. A city Department of Finance Spokesperson said that whoever buys the property must also satisfy $27,000 in city back taxes.
According to the city’s Department of Buildings, the theater is zoned mixed use commercial meaning whoever the next owner is can build almost anything they want up to ten stories high.
Currently the building is a complete mess for the most part, the seats and wall are deteriorating and the ceilings are starting to crumble.
Earlier this year, On Feb. 4, an outdoor smoking area collapsed during a reggae party, injuring four people and brought in the Buildings Department. It was following this incident that Hardy and Lewis were evicted.
City Councilman Charles Barron hopes that the theater doesn’t become just “another commercial entity,” especially as the neighborhood grows and developers are attracted to it now, due to gentrification.
Judge Phillips, a longtime Bed-Stuy resident, bought the Slave Theater in theater in 1982 and named it to remind Black people of their history. Filled with African-American political art, the theater hosted speakers and showed films of, by, and about Black people. Soon, it became a meeting center for activists like the Reverend Al Sharpton, Attorney Alton Maddox and Scholar Amos Wilson.
Phillips died in 2008 without a will.