Browsing through GVSHP’s recently updated image archives, I came across photographs of the Variety Theater, which was, once upon a time, a favorite place of mine to go and see new works of theater. The Variety Arts Theater once stood on the west side of 3rd Avenue between 13th And 14th streets. Built around 1897, it was originally a store or a residence that was later converted into a two story photoplays theater in 1914 during the birth of the moving picture when theaters of this sort popped up all over Manhattan. It had a long history as a movie house, primarily showing B and C grade films as well as softcore porn.
The Variety Arts was at the forefront of the 1990’s theater movement when much of the Off-Broadway scene was centered in and around Union Square. After having been closed in 1989 by the health department, it reopened as a live theater house in 1991 with a production of Return to the Forbidden Planet. Soon thereafter, the Century Center for the Arts and the Daryl Roth Theatre followed to Union Square. The Vineyard Theater later took up residence in the area as well. This author’s favorite production at the Variety Arts was the Manhattan Theatre Club’s The Green Heart by the late Rusty Magee.
A look backward at “the little theater that could” is a lovely trip down memory lane. For more images of the Variety Theater, see our entire collection here.
If you would like to learn more about other historic theaters in the East and West Villages, be sure to visit our theaters page, and if you would like to learn about how you can help preserve the historic East Village, visit here.