The Village East Cinema, located at 181-189 Second Avenue, opened in 1926 as The Yiddish Art Theater in the heart of New York City’s Jewish Rialto district. Designed by prominent Brooklyn lawyer and Jewish community leader Louis Jaffe, the historic building was built as an elaborate, 1265 seat live theater for Yiddish theater pioneer Maurice Schwartz. The interior was designed in the Moorish Revival style that was popular in synagogues at the time, and included a forty-foot ornamental ceiling with a spectacular Star of David in the center that is still present today.
The Yiddish Art Theater housed elaborate productions from Maurice Schwartz and his troupe, such as “The Tenth Commandment” (1926) and “Yoshe Kalb” (1932) which ran for a record 300 performances. Schwartz’s loyal following and festive, imaginative plays attracted such renowned guests as Albert Einstein, Charlie Chaplin, George Gershwin and former New York City mayor Fiorello LaGuardia.
The building went through several names and incarnations throughout the mid-1900s, including The Stuyvesant Theater, a film exhibition house, and a stint as the East Village landmark The Phoenix Theater, where it housed such productions “Oh! Calcutta”, “Grease”, “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas”, “The Princess and the Pea” and “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”.
In 1992, the theater was restored and converted into the Village East Cinema, a beautiful, seven-screen movie theater. Its sprawling, ornate main auditorium features stadium and balcony seating as well as an oversized screen, and the theater remains one of New York City’s best places to see a film. The upper and lower lobbies of the theater were beautifully renovated in 2006 and feature new concession stands and comfortable couches and lounge areas.
The Village East Cinema features an eclectic mix of programming, from commercial blockbusters to the finest in independent film. In addition to premiering many independent films, the Village East Cinema, which is located 10 blocks north of its sister theater, the renowned Angelika Film Center, frequently continues the engagements of many of the films that open at the Angelika.