The nondescript facade of the Village East Theater conceals one of New York City’s great hidden gems. The theater began as the Yiddish Art Theater, designed by Louis Jaffe and could seat 1,265 persons. Charlie Chaplin, George Gershwin and Albert Einstein have passed through its doors and it also later housed the original productions of Grease, Joseph & the Technicolor Dreamcoat, and midnight showings of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. The space has also been used as a burlesque theater, film/tv set and concert venue. I saw the Anvil documentary here and last night, the new Ben Affleck movie, The Town.

The interior is in the Moorish Revival style with gilded ceilings, etched stonework, vibrant blue and red paints, and an elaborate chandelier. The lobby has a row of vintage decorative entranceways, a double staircase and gilded coffered ceilings. I highly recommend watching a movie in this space–all you need to do is ask them which movie is playing in the main theater. The theater usually specializes in independent films, much like its sister theater, the Angelika Film Center.

The restoration was very sensitive to the existing ornamentation and only a small rectangle was cut out of the dome’s edge to accommodate the projector. The restoration also retained the religious symbolism of the original design, particularly the Star of David above the chandelier:

The new entrance to the theater is off 2nd Avenue, and newer ceiling construction encases the old coffered ceiling:

In the main lobby above the concession stand is an even more decorative ceiling with circular chandeliers:

Designs above the original entrances are etched into the wall and painted:

The original entrance is on 12th street, as seen below. Interior landmarking does not always include everything inside a building and in the case of the Village East Theater, the balcony area at the top of the staircase is not landmarked:

An image from the movie theater website shows the color of the walls and the box seats (no longer in use). The theater was converted into a multiplex by raising the orchestra pit and  adding six more theaters behind  and below the stage.

Previous names for the theater: Yiddish Art Theater, Yiddish Folks Theater, the Entermedia Theatre, The Phoenix, Century Theatre, Stuyvesant, Jaffe Art, Eden, Casino East, Gayety, 12th Street Cinemas, Second Avenue Theater.

Village East Theater
181-189 Second Avenue at 12th street.

All photographs by Michelle Young.