Local nonprofit takes up residency at Second Avenue Firehouse
Some of the firehouse artists: From right to left: Margarita, Julian, Joan, Cailtyn, Malcom, Daniel, Segundo.

Courtesy photo

Local nonprofit takes up residency at Second Avenue Firehouse

Story By: ANTHONY PERROTTA
4/4/2019


BAY SHORE—A local nonprofit arts organization is setting up shop in the historic Second Avenue Firehouse. 

Teatro Experimental Yerbabruja, which was originally formed in Puerto Rico and moved to Long Island about 12 years ago, looks to connect art, community and education in order to create a positive impact in the lives of the people they reach with their work. 

The organization takes its name from yerba bruja, a plant that “flourishes in the harshest conditions,” according to the group’s website. 

Teatro was previously based in Central Islip for over four years, before recently moving its headquarters to the second floor of the historic building on Second Avenue in Bay Shore. The organization will also be showcasing its work from local artists on the first floor, alongside the Second Avenue Firehouse Gallery’s artwork. 

Margarita Espada, Teatro’s founder, said the move will not interfere in the group’s previous commitment to the revitalization of Central Islip’s downtown area. “We’re still serving the same community,” she said, adding that the move allows them to reach even more people. 

Espada, a Latin-American studies and theater instructor at Long Island University, said the organization is  “creating a scene” for local artists here on Long Island, which she added is much different than New York City’s art scene. 

In 2009, the organization produced a community-based performance piece called “What Killed Marcelo Lucero?” The show was based on the November 2008 hate crime killing of Ecuadorian immigrant Marcelo Lucero in Patchogue. 

Espada believes art can be used as a “holistic tool” for social change. She also feels, as an international artist who was born in Puerto Rico, that Long Island is more segregated than residents think. This segregation, she feels, shows in its local artwork. Espada hopes her organization’s work can help to give a more “human perspective” on not just local artists, but larger communities that are generally overlooked. 

Susan Barbash, president of the South Shore Restoration Group, said she is “thrilled” that Teatro found its new home at the historic building. “I always hoped that the restored firehouse would redefine what had become a very run-down neighborhood,” she said. “It has done exactly that.”

Barbash said, given Espada’s emphasis on community building, her organization is the “perfect fit” for the firehouse. “Bay Shore is very lucky,” Barbash added. “Teatro will be wonderful for the neighborhood and downtown Bay Shore.” 

The Second Avenue Firehouse was built in 1898 and served as the South Shore’s first centralized firehouse. It was then sold to the United Hebrew Congregation in 1919 and acted as a synagogue and religious school for more than a decade. The building was eventually converted into a boarding house, and over the years, fell into disrepair, as did many of the older homes on Second Avenue, a street wrought by decades of absentee ownership. 

The South Shore Restoration Group bought the deteriorated structure in 1997 with the intention of removing later additions, restoring the existing elements and reconstructing the parts that had been removed, such as the bell tower and hose-drying tower. The restoration was completed in 2000. 

The Second Avenue Firehouse is listed on both the New York State Register of Historic Places and National Register of Historic Places. 

Teatro’s opening celebration, “Crossroads,” will be held at the new location on Friday, April 5 at 7 p.m. Espada is co-curating the exhibition, which features work from over a dozen emerging artists, including Caitlin Matos, Khendrick Campbell and David Wong.