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Redesign Offered at Shakespeare Theater Site

June 03, 1989| From United Press International

LONDON — Developers said Friday that they have redesigned construction plans for a high-rise building in a way that would preserve the remains of a theater that premiered Shakespeare's plays.

Opponents of the project said they believe that the new plan will still damage valuable archeological remains at the site.

Imry Merchant Developers, which is building a 10-story office building, said it has canceled plans to drive foundation pilings through excavated remains of the Rose Playhouse, built in 1587.

The office will instead be built atop three steel beams weighing 400 tons that will straddle the site and create a street-level gallery to house the remains of the first Elizabethan theater unearthed in London.

Imry redesigned the building in Southwark, south London, after protesters occupied the site to prevent the reburial of the theater, discovered by archeologists who routinely check sites before construction may begin.

The protesters, including distinguished Shakespearean actress Dame Peggy Ashcroft, said the plans would destroy an important part of English history, and succeeded in delaying a May 15 construction date for a month.

The actors, politicians and scholars also are opposed to Imry's new scheme and proposed making the site a museum.

"We on the board of Imry are as much lovers of the English heritage as anyone else," said Imry chief executive Martin Myers.

Environment Secretary Nicholas Ridley gave Imry 1 million ($1.58 million) to cover losses it incurred by delaying the project one month while discussing changes with the government preservation body English Heritage.

Imry's deputy chairman Martin Landau said, "The total cost (of the delay in construction) will be in excess of 10 million ($15.8 million), and by far the greatest proportion of that comes from the redesign."

English Heritage deputy chairman Simon Jenkins said, "It has not been cheap for Imry, but we've got there at last." Imry gave up some space for parking and offices.

The Rose Theater Campaign unveiled its plans for incorporating the remains of the theater, which premiered Shakespeare's "Titus Andronicus" and "Henry VI," into an exhibition center, saying Imry's new plan would destroy the unexcavated outer wall and entrance to the theater.

"The Rose can justly claim to be of much more importance culturally to us than anything at Stratford-Upon-Avon, where Shakespeare was born and where thousands of tourists visit every year," said actor James Fox.

"We don't yet know the extent of this find," Ashcroft said. "The thought of reinterring the Rose is like finding a new Shakespearean play and deciding not to read it."

The protesters want the government to order Imry to preserve the site, and launched an appeal for 500,000 ($790,000) to support their campaign.

If the site is ordered preserved by the June 15 deadline, Imry would not be allowed to start building but would receive government compensation. The Rose campaigners could then take over the site at a reduced price, they said.

Even so, lawmaker Simon Hughes said an appeal would be launched to fund building work with "eight-figure cost implications."

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