By Clive I. Morrick
I had intended to write one article on some favorite West Village cinemas which I and many readers had known but are now lost to us even before I discovered the Sheridan, Carmine, and Fugazy cinemas (WVN Vol. 11, Nos 4-6). So here it is, in two parts.
The Fifth Avenue Cinema (or Playhouse), 66 Fifth Avenue, now the New School’s Parsons School of Design, 1926-1973.
This was the “first succinctly art cinema in America.” In 1922, the National Board of Review (NBR) had broached the idea of small specialty theaters to show pictures of unusual artistic merit, acknowledging there was no mass audience for this kind of film.
In its issue of November 1926, the NBR Magazine (whose office was at 70 Fifth Avenue) reported that Film Associates, Inc. had opened The Fifth Avenue Cinema, “with its intimate air, its hospitable lounge, and apparently sincere endeavor not to take the name of art in vain.” The first showing was The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. A month later this film was still showing to packed houses. The cinema became a pioneer of the Little Motion Picture Theatre movement. A year later similar cinemas opened in Washington, D.C., Cleveland, and Chicago.
The Art Greenwich Twin, 97 Greenwich Avenue, now an Equinox Fitness Center, 1936-2000.
This cinema had four identities in its sixty-four years. It opened in February 1936 as the Greenwich Theater. On August 19, 1936, four hundred patrons had to endure a stink bomb. Ushers used sprays and perfumes and the show went on uninterrupted. This incident was put down to labor troubles.
It later became the Greenwich Playhouse, operated by Creative Entertainment, and on December 14, 1979, re-opened as the two-screen Greenwich Playhouse 1 and 2, called the Greenwich Playhouse Twin in the listings.
In the mid-1980s, Cineplex Odeon took it over and renamed it the Art Greenwich Twin. But in 1998, as a result of merger with Loew’s Theaters, Cineplex Odeon had to sell it. On August 28, 1998, The New York Times reported that Cablevision would take it over. This was the beginning of the end and it closed in June 2000. Though not a repertory cinema, it was small and local and showed first run movies.
There was always a heating-cooling problem with one auditorium too hot, the other too cold. For dueling memories of rodents from former managers check out the comments at cinematreasures.org.
The Waverly Theater, 325 Avenue of the Americas, now the IFC Center, 1937-2001.
This cinema opened in 1937 as an art cinema in what was formerly a church. It was probably named after nearby Waverly Place, which was named after Sir Water Scott’s novel Waverley.
Cineplex Odeon bought it in the early 1980s and installed a small second screen, calling it the Waverly Twin. It began to show mass market films but lost its audience.
The Waverly began the phenomenon of weekend midnight showings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The first was on April 2, 1976, the last in January 1978.
But perhaps the Waverly requires an asterisk because the location is not lost to us. On June 17, 2005, the three-screen (now five) IFC Center opened there. On weekends it plays “Waverly Midnights.”
Hoberman, J., “The Movie Freak’s Guide to Film in New York”, New York Magazine, 12/29/1973.
Horack, J-C, “Experimental Cinema: The Film Reader,” Dixon, W., Foster, G., Eds. Routledge, New York, 2002.
Moscow, H., The Street Book: An Encyclopedia of Manhattan’s Street Names and Their Origins, Hagstrom Co., New York, 1978.
National Board of Review Magazine, Vol. 1 Nos. 2, 6, and 7.
“The History of Repertory Cinemas in New York City”, NYU Project for Culture of Archives, Museums and Libraries, Spring 2012.
Forgotten New York.
New York Songlines.
New York Times archives.