Slave Theater saved from city auction

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Judge holds off foreclosure until November to see if buyers will materialize

By Nico Simino

At the last minute the Slave Theater, at 1215 Fulton St., was saved from foreclosure, preventing the theater from changing hands, at least for the next few months.
The property, located on a busy commercial stretch in Bedford-Stuyvesant, was supposed to be auctioned off on Thursday, Aug. 9, because of a failure to pay back taxes and liens on the property. However, the attorney for the property’s legal owner, Rev. Samuel Boykin, convinced the judge to hold off on the foreclosure process till the middle of November, telling the judge that a few last-minute prospective buyers showed interest in the property.
Rev. Boykin claims that many of the interested buyers in the past had “pipe dreams” about the theater, but when it came time for them to put up the money, nobody could follow through with their original plans.
This apparently includes a group from Bushwick and Bed-Stuy that wants to keep it as a theater and started a kick-starter campaign to raise $200,000 as a down payment.
“We have to be careful of who we sell to,” said Boykin. “Community-backed buyers can’t really buy the property because of a lack of up-front funds and they must prove that they have the funds before they can buy it from us, so we have a lot of different businessmen with a lot of different offers.”
Rev. Boykin also said that since the neighborhood is undergoing gentrification, the demand for the property has been higher, with a lot of community groups wanting to preserve the theater for historical reasons.
As of now, Rev. Boykin claims that he has a couple of buyers lined up, but can’t disclose who they are for legal reasons.
The theater had been mired in tax and legal problems for years when the original owner, Judge John L. Phillips, lost it due to mental deterioration.
Since 2001, the theater’s various parties have been fighting over who the actual owner of the property is. Several people have claimed rights to the property in the last few years including Boykin, Judge Phillips’ nephew, whom the state recognizes 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.
Hardy and Rev. Lewis were considered illegal squatters by Rev. Boykin.
“One of the blessings is that the building is vacated now. The major problem before was that the buildings were inhabited by other people– squatters,” said Boykin.
Judge Phillips, a longtime Bed-Stuy resident, bought the Slave Theater in 1984 and named it Slave to remind African-Americans 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.
The property is zoned for mixed commercial/residential use and if done right can be built up to 10 stories.