Monday, January 31, 2011

Village East

In 2008, I posted a little bit on the Village East cinema at 12th and 2nd Ave. Now the Museum of the City of New York's wonderful digital collection offers us this shot, showing the cinema when it was the Yiddish Folks Theater in 1930.

Wurtz Brothers, 1930

Close-up details show a cluster of businesses and their heavy, dazzling signage--a Russian restaurant and an optometrist's office with its all-seeing eyes, those outsized glasses bringing to mind Dr. Eckleberg in Gatsby's valley of ashes. Today, in their places under the archways, there's the cinema's ticket window, a locksmith shop, and some closed doors.

Wurtz Brothers, 1930

On the corner of 2nd and 12th, there was once a cigar shop. This corner is now incorporated into the cinema. I imagine all this space was taken when the theater was turned into a multiplex and they needed the room for movie screens and seats.

Wurtz Brothers, 1930

The NYPL archives has a 1936 shot that shows the Hebrew letters on the marquee. (As an aside, I could not resist including this little find of a dancing Russian bear, made of neon it looks like, drinking vodka on a restaurant sign in 1936 just one block north of here, somewhere around where Shoolbred's, nee Jade Mountain, is today.)


When Yiddish left, the theater became a movie house in the 1940s. In the 1950s, it was the important Off-Broadway art theater The Phoenix. From 1965-1969, it was the Gayety, Manhattan's only burlesque house during that time.

Also in the 1960s, the theater offices were turned into apartments--according to the Landmark Designation Report: "three notable gay residents were Jackie Curtis, a drag superstar in Andy Warhol films, photographer Peter Hujar (who lived here from 1975 to 1987), and artist David Wojnarowicz (who lived here from 1980 to 1992)."

The Gayety by Tony Marciante

It became the Village East cinema in 1991. It's one of the better places to see a movie because it's often quiet and uncrowded. If you're patient, all the stuff that plays at the Angelika will come here later and you don't have to deal with the espresso-swilling crowds. Also, it still has one of the last analog marquees in town.


EV Grieve said...

I do enjoy seeing films here as well. Some of the smaller theaters in the lower level kind of suck, but the main auditorium is a classic.

Mark said...

These are great!

I lived on 12th Street around the corner from the theatre for 35 years and saw it through it's many, many changes.

When I arrived, the corner was occupied by the world tiniest greek diner.

Peter, David and Jackie were all familiar neighborhood faces.

Sean said...

In recounting the history of the theater, you jump from its use as the Gayety Theater for burlesque from 1965-69 to its reincarnation as the Village Cinema in the 90s.
Let us not forget the Eden Theatre, more culturally stimulating, that was there from 1969-1975.

Actually, I went to a burlesque show at the Gayety (incidentally, at that time, "gay" was not widely used for homosexuals, so that is was why a burlesque house was so named).
I was in college, over 18, and was curious at what happened at a burlesque performance. The theater was pretty empty during the afternoon show, full of anonymous old guys, and, frankly, even for those "pre-sexual revolution" times, pretty lame and boring.

In 1969 the Eden opened with the off-Bdwy production of "Oh, Calcutta!", created by Brit critic Kenneth Tynan, which was as popular as "Hair" at the time.
Since the cast appeared in the nude, it created a lot of buzz for itself.
Sketches were written by, amongst others, Nobel prize winner Samuel Beckett, John Lennon, Sam Shepard, Leonard Melfi, Edna O'Brien, Jules Feiffer, and Tynan himself. Peter Schickele (aka "PDQ Bach"), Robert Dennis and Stanley Walden were the revue's composers.

The revue was revived for Broadway a few years later and holds the record for the 5th longest-running show in Broadway history.

The Eden also presented the NYC off-Broadway premier of "Grease", which went on to great fame.

Bowery Boy said...

Was this ever the Entermedia Theater? I went to see Milton Berle there...

Lisa said...

In the late 80s that tiny Greek diner had become an equally tiny Thai joint, the food was great but it was thrown out when the cinema expanded.

Mark said...

Yes, this was the Entermedia Theatre for a while.

The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas also made it's off-Broadway debut here.

viNomadic said...

I lived on 13th street just behind the AT&T building & got work when Joey Asaro & his Jewish partner whose name escapes me refurbished the Eden as Entermedia. Besides last minute plaster & paint in the bathrooms, & occasional manning the food desk, later an Elvis tribute showcased in there & hired pretty much all of us regularly working for peanuts at scale-- while they were getting triple.
Their big success came when Best Little Whorehouse in Texas showcased there.

Signed D.C. said...

According to cinematreasures, much of "The Night They Raided Minsky's" was filmed here. I have seen the flick and the exterior shots do look like the front of the building.

Jeremiah Moss said...

here's a shot of the Minksy's movie:

Signed D.C. said...

D'oh, pardon me. I certainly must've read that orig. one when first posted!

We might've been on some kinda wavelength today, 'cause I've also done something Villageast-related...same name, different building.

Jeremiah Moss said...

spooky! love the stuff about the horse manure smell.

blue glass said...

once upon a mattress (i believe with carol burnett) played there and some interesting, well done plays for off off broadway - the names of which i can't remember.
i lived on 13th street when it was a one-theater movie house and it was great to run around the corner and grab an afternoon movie in such a quiet, beautiful setting.
joey asaro ran some of his businesses out of "the senate" on second avenue & 14th street, and he also had a limo service.
he did a pretty good job of preserving the architecture of the theater.

Anonymous said...

"The Night They Raided Minsky's"

The first movie I ever saw as a young boy that featured a shot of a lady's boobies. They were spectacular!!
(ohh Brit!)

Gary said...

Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat played here before moving to Broadway's Royale. I also saw "Taking My Turn" there & the musical version of "The Chosen."

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post! The theater was something of a revival house for a time (the 80s?) and I saw a few entries in a Sci-Fi/Fantasy Film Festival there. I'll always remember how the rapt audience (all geeks and genre fanboys) for "Jason and the Argonauts" waited for that moment when the giant statue Talos comes to life and turns his head with an eerie creak---only to see the moment had been clipped from the reel! A big pop on the soundtrack echoed through the theater, Talos jumped a few seconds forward into his reanimation act and a mighty groan went up from the devastated audience---"AAaaawwww NOOOO!"

Actual film. Actual sprockets. Lint in the gate and scratches in the emulsion. Sticky floors, wooden armrests. Good times, good times.

Unknown said...

I lived on 12th Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenue. Timeline 1954-1966. When I was a kid we hung out at the candy store on the Northwest corner of 12th and 2nd avenue. It was loosely connected to the Phoenix theater that was later renamed six or seven times. It was owned by the parents of one of my schoolmates, named Patia. We all had good times in there drinking cokes and egg cream drink.
I remember sneaking into the theater to view "Ann Curio's - This was Burlesque". Great memories!

quest1962 said...

It absolutely was Entermedia.