Despite the best efforts of White House political adviser Lyn Nofziger, New York City's plan to tear down the historic Helen Hayes and Morosco theaters in favor of the grand new Portman Hotel project ran up against another hurdle yesterday, this one while it was running its legal lap. A federal appeals court told the district court to issue a permanent injuction against demolition, noting that the city "will suffer harm" from its decision, but the harm is outweighed by the fact that "any further litigation will be futile after the theaters have been destroyed."

The city has been trying to light a fire under the process of declaring the theaters expendable, fearful that its precarious financing package will fall apart. In that light, it turned to Nofziger last month, asking his help in getting the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation to grant a waiver on the Morosco, as it did for the Helen Hayes Theater in 1978.

A court affidavit from Jack L. Goldstein, an advisory council employe, said Nofziger had issued an ultimatum that "either the council rolls over in this matter or it was out of business immediately."

Nofziger denied making the threat, although he acknowledges he phoned the council executive director to urge a quick decision. "I would be delinquent if I didn't make phone calls and ask people to move along," he was quoted as saying. "Government can move very slowly." As can, apparently, the wheels of justice.