Village East Cinemas

Art & Culture | History

Welcome to one of the most beautiful movie theaters you’ve ever seen, serving up splendor on stage and screen since 1926!

Village East Cinema East Village

About Village East Cinemas

 & why it made the Carpe City list

  • This gorgeous building might be the best place to see a movie in New York City. It’s so beautifully decorated, it’s landmarked both inside and out!
  • Originally, the auditorium held more than 1,200 seats. Today you still sit in red-velvet splendor, but when the building was converted into the Village East Cinema in 1990, the main auditorium was reduced to 440 seats. Other screening rooms were established elsewhere in the building.
  • But forget about the seats! At the Village East, it’s all about splendor under the star…
    • When seated in the main theater, look up. The NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission considers the ceiling “some of the most remarkable plaster craftsmanship in the city.”
    • That spectacularly ornate ceiling features a stately Star of David.
      • Why? Because in 1926 this building was the Yiddish Art Theater, the most ornate of the Yiddish theaters that once lined 2ndAvenue. Today, it’s the only intact Yiddish theater in the area.
  • During the heyday of Yiddish theater in the 1920s, 2ndAvenue was known as Yiddish Broadway. (Its stars are immortalized on the Yiddish Theater Walk of Fame two blocks away on 10thStreet.)
  • The Yiddish Art Theater was a cut above fare presented at other theaters. It showed Art, hence the name.
    1. Actors who were part of the Yiddish Art Theater company published the goals of their “art theater movement” in 1918:
      • The theater must be a sort of holy place, where a festive and artistic atmosphere will always reign.
      • A company of young artists who love beauty must strive to bring the Yiddish theater to a beautiful fulfillment.
      • To play good dramas, fine comedies, worthy farces, and nice operettas. If a melodrama must be played, it must have interest and logic.
      • Every play must be put on as it should be, and the author should also have something to say about his play.
  • So, what’s up with all the decoration?
    • The Village East was designed in the Moorish-revival style, which was common for Jewish spaces prior to WWI (If you’ve ever seen Central Synagogue or the Eldridge Street Synagogue, they were also designed in this style).
    • Why? At the time, the Jewish community was looking for a way to design sacred and community spaces to reflect Jewish history and celebrate Middle Eastern motifs and origins.

Carpe City Trivia

The Village East was home to burlesque performances, very significant off-Broadway theater, and the first run of Grease!

  • The theater has an incredibly rich cultural history. While it showed Yiddish theater up to about 1950, the building was home to the off-Broadway company “The Phoenix Theater” from 1953-1961.
    • The Phoenix was a major force in American theater.
      • Founding partners included Richard Rodgers and Elia Kazan.
      • Actors and directors included Jessica Tandy, Carol Burnett, Eli Wallach, Jerry Stiller, Michael Redgrave, and Tony Richardson.
  • From 1965-1969, the theater was Manhattan’s only burlesque house.
  • Grease opened here in 1972 before it moved to Broadway.
  • The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas opened here in 1978.
  • Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat opened here in 1981.

By: Lucie Levine

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