Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Loew's Commodore Theatre

While doing a Google search the other day, an article from a Virginia newspaper popped up... the writer, Fred Pfisterer, a retired editor for the paper, was reminiscing about seeing "Psycho" in New York City ... (The photo below is from the DeMille Theater on 47th Street and Seventh Avenue. Read that theater's history here.)

Pfisterer saw Hitchcock's classic at the Village Theater. As he recalls, "The theater manager advertised that a real nurse would be on hand for all showings in case any member of the audience became so frightened that they passed out or had a heart attack. The gimmick worked because it drew sold-out crowds to the theater for months."

What caught my attention from Pfisterer's article: "The theater, on Second Avenue between East 6th an 7th streets in the East Village, became the Fillmore East in 1968when entertainment promoter Bill Graham acquired it..."

Anyway, plenty has been written on the Fillmore East and promoter Bill Graham through the years ... (Jeremiah wrote about Ratner's and the Fillmore here ... Forgotten New York has photos of Jim Powers' FE mosaics here.)

And there has been plenty written about what became of the space in the 1980s -- the legendary Saint. (Check out the site dedicated to the Saint right here.)

But I wanted to know more about when the space was a movie theater. According to the always-reliable Cinema Treasures:

Originally opened in 1926 as the independently operated Commodore Theatre, this movie house/Yiddish theater was taken over by Loew's Inc. and later became known as the Village Theater. It can credit Lenny Bruce as appearing on its stage.

In March 1968 it became the Fillmore East concert venue. ....

In the fall of 1980, it was converted into what was to become New York City's best and most celebrated gay disco The Saint, which became famous world-wide. This continued until May 2, 1988 when the doors closed following a non-stop 48 hours party. The building was used spasmodically for a couple of years for live events, then stood empty for a few years until the auditorium was demolished in around 1995.

Today the narrow facade remains and the lobby is now remodeled as an Emigrant Savings Bank. Apartments/condos called Hudson East were constructed on the site of the auditorium.

According to a Cinema Treasures commenter, when it opened in 1926, the Commodore was the largest of the 10 movie theatres in operation on Second Avenue between Houston and Ninth Street. Also, the last films to show there appear to have been "A Ticklish Affair" and "Hootenanny Hoot" on Oct. 8, 1963.

Here's a photo of Timothy Leary circa 1966 from its days as an off-Broadway venue:

The Emigrant Savings Bank started going up in this space in 1997.... (As a Cinema Treasures commenter said, the entire land plot on which the auditorium once stood is now occupied by a six-story apartment building with the address of 225 E. Sixth St. and currently known as Hudson East.)

There are several photographic collages of the Commodore in the Emigrant lobby ...

As the Times reported in 1997:

A few groups rallied unsuccessfully to save the building for conversion to a recording studio or other performance use. Now, only the theater's Second Avenue entrance has been retained as part of a four-story commercial building that the Hudson Companies sold to Emigrant Savings Bank. A bank branch occupies the one-time theater lobby. The rest of the theater was razed to make way for the new apartment building.... A plaque will be placed at the building's entrance telling passers-by of the storied night spots that once occupied the site -- despite the fact ... that the people who will rent apartments here will probably be too young to remember them.

It's All the Streets You Crossed Not So Long Ago has a great post on the Village Theatre era here here.

Fillmore East photos via.


Mykola Dementiuk said...

Used to go to the Loews Commodore very often when I was a kid. The very first film I saw there was 'Tom Thumb.' The first man that touched me was at the Commodore but my school, St. George's, was around the block on 6th Street, so I could been seen what I was doing. As I got older began to take more and more trips to Times Square. I did see many shows at the Fillmore but smoking dope was more important to me at the time.



NYCDreamin said...

Nice history and great photos, Grieve. I've got an original "Hootenanny Hoot" newspaper ad - I'll have to dig it out and post it.

Signed D.C. said...

Here's a piece I did a long time ago emphasizing its Vilage Theater period:


EV Grieve said...

Thanks Signed DC.... great post. I added it to the main piece here.

Mykola Dementiuk said...

Nice piece Signed DC, sure took me back to the 50s (old movies) and 60s(psychodelic R & R).

James Taylor said...

Laura Nyro and Miles Davis on Second Avenue? Damn, those kids had it good.

Laura Goggin Photography said...

Cool photos. Looks like there was a big fire next-door...?

EV Grieve said...

@Goggla... One source I saw mentioned the fire next door happened in May 1969...

Jeremiah Moss said...

lovely discovery

Jill said...

I have a long story about why I have an account at this bank, but the short version is that it is on the list of court approved banks for accounts for minors, and so I chose it.

While I wish it wasn't a bank, if I had to choose a place to bank from a list, this is the one to choose. At least every time you walk in you can have a nice memory and look at some cool photos.

Thom L. said...

Thanks. I saw a lot of sword and sandal films at the Commodore as a kid. I watched so many great bands at the Village Theater and Fillmore East. Even went to the Saint once or twice. Visiting that bank a few months ago really made me sad.