A federal appeals court has ordered a preliminary injunction against demolition of the Morosco and Helen Hayes theaters in New York to make way for the Portman Hotel project. An item in the Executive Notes column yesterday incorrectly reported that the injunction was permanent.

A U.S. Court of Appeals in Manhattan today halted the proposed demolition of two famous Broadway theaters -- the Helen Hayes and Morosco theaters.

The appellate court sent the case back to U.S. District Judge Kevin Duffy and directed him to issue a preliminary injunction barring demolition of the theaters until a claim by attorneys for Actors Equity and the Natural Resources Defense Council Inc. is resolved. That claim asserts that White House influence is being used to block their efforts to save the theaters.

Both theaters are eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places because of their historic and cultural significance.

Today's ruling came in an appeal of a lawsuit challenging the proposed construction of a $292-million complex that includes a 50-story, 2,000-room hotel and a theater in the run-down Times Square neighborhood.

The project involves the joint participation of the City of New York, the New York State Urban Development Corporation, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and John C. Portman Jr., a noted architect and developer of central city properties.

In a 38-page decision issued Dec. 1, Duffy held that "certain allegations of undue influence by the executive branch presented a genuine issue of fact." But, the appellate court said in its decision today, "nevertheless he denied plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction."

According to today's ruling, the preservationists allege that the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation was "pressured by White House officials into issuing a recommendation by 5 p.m. on Nov. 20 . . . for a speedy resolution . . . designed to preclude the council from considering the feasibility of alternative plans for development."

The court said "allegations have been made that a staff member of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation was aware that the White House wanted the recommendation to provide for demolition."

The Court of Appeals has urged the lower court to expedite final disposition of the claims by the plaintiffs.