- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 7, 2011

NEW YORK (AP) - A vestige of 1960s Greenwich Village has been painted over by a Mexican restaurant, prompting an outcry from New York City preservation advocates.

An old sign for the Fat Black Pussycat Theatre had remained for decades at its original site on Minetta Street, a spot taken over by Panchito’s Restaurant in the 1970s. Last week, Panchito’s covered the sign with bright red paint.

The coffee bar had been a beatnik haven, where some claim a young Bob Dylan wrote “Blowin’ in the Wind” in 1962. Bill Cosby, Richie Havens and Tiny Tim were among those who had performed there.

Andrew Berman, executive director for the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, called the paint job “a shame.”

“It’s a tangible link to this incredibly important era in the neighborhood’s history, when so many great musicians and poets and artists used the South Village as a springboard to transform the world,” said Berman. “Less and less of it is left.”

In 2006, the society proposed that the city designate a large swath of Greenwich Village as a historical landmark. The Landmarks Preservation Commission designated a significant amount of the requested area, though the Fat Black Pussycat Theatre and the remaining sign was not deemed a landmark.

Panchito’s owner Bob Engelhardt said the nostalgia is misplaced, and that the preservation group doesn’t understand the spirit of Greenwich Village.

“The preservation advocates, from those I’ve met, were never in the Fat Black Pussycat, as I was,” said Engelhardt. “It was a cesspool.”

Engelhardt said he had never been told not to paint over the sign. It was on a faded front of bricks above the restaurant’s Minetta Street entrance. It’s a short, quiet street behind the more bustling, beer-soaked MacDougal Street.

“There are buildings that are worth preserving. Ninety percent of what’s in the Village isn’t,” said Engelhardt. “The Village was freedom. The Village was not rules and regulations set in concrete. It destroys everything the Village was always famous for.”

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