La MaMa’s third home was a slightly larger space. It was twenty-three by seventy-five feet and had twelve-foot ceilings, all of which housed the usual coffee bar, dressing room, toilet, a bit of storage, and a stage that stretched the width of the room. The legal capacity was seventy-four, though more would often be squeezed in. City officials had run Ellen Stewart out of three locations by 1968, but she never gave up on her theatrical pushcart. “The only way around all the problems with city government regulations was to get our own theater,” Paul Foster said, “and that’s when we got the Rockefeller and other foundation grants.” Unfamiliar with the process of submitting a formal proposal, Stewart naively called up the Ford Foundation and extended an invitation to visit La MaMa. After Ford Foundation Vice President McNeil Lowry and his wife attended a performance, Stewart brought them to the Fifth Street Deli and charmed them over hot dogs and sauerkraut. Stewart told them she needed $10,000 for a down payment on a building at 74A East Fourth Street, along with $15,000 to renovate the four-story space as a theater; a week later, in November 1967, La MaMa received its first foundation grant of $25,000. La MaMa’s newly acquired building, a former hot dog factory, needed a lot of work. Two floors were made into theaters that sat eighty-five people, one floor was set aside for rehearsal space, and the top floor became Stewart’s residence. As she worked on setting up La MaMa’s permanent home, her theater continued staging shows in a temporary space at 9 St. Mark’s Place. At last, on April 2, 1969, a renovated and newly renamed La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club opened its doors to the public.
From Chapter 16 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore