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You’re a superficial pinhead. You give far too much power to a little theater if you imagine that “it ruined a neighborhood.” The East Village was in serious decline, just as much of the rest of the city was, long before and long after Fillmore East existed. It was only in business for three years, provided a workshop where NYU students learned valuable theater craft, and brought a lot of additional business to Ratner’s Deli next door—as their clientel were slowly dying off or moving out of the city. Live performance is what has kept many such theaters in existence—as in the case of the Beacon Theater and many others. If Bill Graham had kept it going the theater might still be intact today. Up and down Second Avenue dozens of other such theaters are long gone—for all of the reasons that movie palaces have been unable to compete in the modern market. Find another scapegoat, for you are a black-eye on the soul of civilization.
Profjoe, it was as the Fillmore East that the theater became internationally famous and history was made there on many nights, and it served as an incubator for the professional development of the whole Rock concert industry that we know today. As the Commodore it was known in the neighborhood—but hardly in the rest of the city, which was filled with many such theaters, many more opulent than the Commodore.
There is also a Visulite Theater in Staunton, Virginia, as well (I think it’s around the same size) which also featured back-of-the-screen projection. It sat empty for a number of years and then, I believe it was a playhouse. After an extensive restoration it is once again a movie theater, though I don’t think the films are projected from behind the screen anymore as I don’t believe the equipment exists today to support that technology.
Some photos of the theater today, including interior photos, may be viewed at this site: http://retrorichmond.com/?p=55
My 7-year-old son and I just rode the pirate ride through the theater yesterday. The ride’s operator didn’t know the name of the former theater, but I’m glad that now I was able to locate it. You can’t see anything of the theater’s interior from the perspective of the ride through the interior, but I would guess that it was gutted to make the ride. I wish the theater could have survived as a music venue for the flocks of tourists—then perhaps it could have been preserved more intact.
After the untimely death of Michael Jackson last week, I have to ask: Is this the Rialto Theater in Los Angeles where part of the Thriller video was shot?
I’m guessing that the photo was taken in 1972 because the marquee shows further signs of deteriation from its condition when Fillmore East Closed, Bill Graham’s name above the theater name has been painted out with black paint, and sometime in either 1972 or ‘73 the name on the marquee was changed to the name of the new venue: Village East.
Here’s a question for you, or anyone else who knows the answer: When did the theater, as The Village East, go out of business? One person from the neighborhood commented above that by 1976 he noticed that the theater was abandoned and homeless people were squattng inside. When did Village East officially fold?
Great momentos! Have you got any photographs of the theater as the N.F.E.?
Some more photographs can be viewed here: http://www.cinematour.com/tour/us/13431.html
I spent many a Saturday afternoon as a kid at the Cutler Ridge Cinema. I remember seeng “The Incredible Mister Limpet” with Don Knots there, for one. The last film that I saw there before moving away from Miami was “ET.” I have fond memories of the place.
It appears that a man named Dick Morgenstern bought the theater from Graham first in June 1972, but quickly realized that he was in over his head and put it back on the market before even hosting the first show. See article at: http://www.fillmore-east.com/artifacts10.htm
Here is a link to an article about Mr. Stuart’s purchase of the theater, with his plans to continue its use as a concert venue: http://www.fillmore-east.com/artifacts13.htm
What was the atmosphere like working there in the early ‘70s? After having been such a storied venue, what was the place like in the wake of the Graham years? Did they still present shows with a light show? Was the staff still comprised largely of students from neighboring arts and technical college; is it NYU? I’m not remembering at the moment.
I stopped by to have a look at the Hippodrome back in June (‘08), when I happened to be in Richmond for the evening. The illustrations in the display cases of what the theater will look like when the restoration is completed (if they can pull together the financing) are very impressive. The plan is to remove the orchestra seats and replace them with tables and booths rising towards the back, and a dance floor down by the stage—like the old Cotton Club. I hope that those of you who live in the neighborhood will keep us advised as to how restoration is developing in the coming months. Jackson Ward could certainly use the economic boost that restoration of this lovely old theater would assist in bringing for the neighborhood.
Did any of you out there work for either incarnation of the theater as a Rock concert hall after Bill Graham closed the Fillmore East? First it was called the N.F.E. Theater—much to Bill Graham’s chagrin—perhaps in operation from late ‘71 on into '72, then it was called The Village East, of which a photo can be seen of it above in '73. Witnesses from the neighborhood describe above that by '76 it was closed, the theater was abandoned, and homeless people were squatting in it and trashing the interior. So my question is: Why did it fail as a concert venue when Graham and company had made it such a success? The Capital Theater over in Pasaic, N.J., was a successful concert venue of similar size from 1971-'84, and even managed to attract some of the very bands that Graham thought he could no longer get now that they could play the Garden. So what went wrong for this lovely old concert hall? Did subsequent owners not have Graham’s flair for business and concert promotion?
Bill Graham has headaches with the Hell’s Angels, as he did out in Frisco as well. One night a bunch of them came into the outer lobby and demanded to be let in. Graham came out and told them that the show was sold out, and anyway, no one was getting in without a ticket. At which one of the “Angels” threw a heavy chain at him, striking Graham above the bridge of his nose and drawing blood. But Graham stood his ground and the bikers soon stood down and dispersed. He didn’t have trouble with them after that. At least, that’s how Graham relates the story in the biography composed of interviews with him and those associated with him over the years titled “Bill Grafham Presents.” Of even greater trouble for Graham was the neighborhood’s group of hippie, anarchist squatters who called themselves the Mother[fornicators]. But that’s a story for another day.
The print version of the paper also contained a vintage photo of the theater in its heyday (with triangular marquee), as well as the contemporary shot. I hope these plans for a club work out—The National (also in Richmond) has turned out to be a fine nightclub, with a ballroom in the former orchestra section and balcony seating still intact.
There is an article in today’s Richmond Times-Dispatch (May 15, 2008) about plans to turn the Hippodrome, and the former Elks Club next door, into a night club—possibly under the BB King Blues Club marquee.
Here is a link to the studios' history that many will find of interest.
The theater was converted into Hi/Royal Recording Studios in the late ‘50s. Among some of those who recorded here were the Memphis Horns and the Ike and Tina Turner Review, back when Memphis was the capitol of Soul.
After Bill Graham closed the Fillmore East a couple of other owners tried to revive it as a concert hall for Rock music, but they apparently lacked his skills as a promoter. At first it was renamed the N.F.E. Theater (late ‘71 or '72), much to Graham’s irritation. There is a photo on the Lowes Comodore page of the old F.E as the Village East in '73, when the Dolls might have played there. I don’t know how long it operated as such but one witness says he personally saw the theater abandoned with homeless people living in it by '76. A sad end for the Carnige Hall of Rock concerts.
In response to brucec, the scenario that he describes is pretty much how the beautiful Jefferson Theater, Charlottesville, Va. (1912), limped along and survived to the present. It’s currently undergoing a complete restoration and will re-emerge as a wonderful concert hall. Not only is it’s balcony being reopened from the small twin that was created by enclosing it in 1981, but a smaller balcony above that (which was once segregated seating and has been completely walled in and inaccessible for years) is being opened up as well. And the theater survives to tell its history: both glorious and shameful.
Apparently the theater is now up for sale. What’s the asking price?
Those of you with an intimate knowledge of this theater will, no doubt, recognize that some of the above information is incorrect. For one thing, the theater did not sit parallel to Second Avenue it sat parallel Sixth Street and the side exits of the theater opened out onto the sidewalk along Sixth. The auditorium sat, essentially, on the same footprint as the apartment building that sits on the site today, Hudson East. I was initially thrown off by an old aerial photo of that corner, which made the building look like it lay the other way. I’ve since bought a copy of Amalie R. Rothchilds wonderful photo memoir, “Live At The Fillmore East,” which contains many excellent interior and exterior shots of the FE.
Only the narrow lobby portion of the building opened up onto Second Avenue, with an outside lobby covered in small tiles and display cases of, first, coming movie attractions, and, later, coming bands. This went indoors to an outer lobby (ticket window) and then an inner lobby (concessions).
Continuing straight, to the west, you walked into the auditorium. Here is another mistaken piece of intormation. Looking from this pont toward the stage, the box seat that held the sound board was on your right (stage left)—not on the other side, as I mistakenly said—and the box seats that held the light board was on your left (stage right). Both boxes were at about the second storey level, and directly above them at third storey level were oepnings on either side for the spotlight operators.
VIPs watched the show from the sound box, sitting behind the crew where they were screened from view by the audience below. John Lennon & Yoko Ono, who were spending time in New York prior to making the move official, came to some shows, and at 2 a.m. on the morning of June 5, 1971 (or was that the morning of the 6th?) came down on stage with Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention to play three songs. Bob Dylan, who had moved his family back down from upstate and was living in the Village in the early ‘70s, is said to have watched some shows from the sound box as well.
Here is an announcement from their vision statement on their Website:
In January 2007, the Board of Trustees for the Academy of Music unanimously voted to discontinue the nightly showing of first-run films, an action that had been recommended by an independent theater consultant a few years prior. Faced with lower-than-expected revenues from movies and donations during 2006, board members made the difficult decision to halt the films in order to avoid amassing further debt. Live performances, however, would continue unabated at the 800-seat theater. In making its decision, the Board of Trustees pledged to seek public input as to the types of programming community members would like to see in the historic building at 274 Main St. The Board also sought to initiate a discussion about the relationship between the Academy and the City of Northampton, which owns the building, and between the Academy and other community arts organizations.