Fillmore East Then and Now

Prior to the Fillmore East, the Lowe’s Commodore Theatre opened as a Yiddish theater in 1927. Source: MCNY

49 Years Ago Today- On March 8, 1968, the Fillmore East opened at 105 Second Avenue.

The first night’s lineup of Big Brother & Holding Company, Tim Buckley, and Albert King was the start of a three year run of music legends that included The Who, The Doors, Led Zeppelin, Jethro Tull, Blood Sweat & Tears, The Grateful Dead, Hot Tuna, the Allman Brothers, Jimi Hendrix, the Byrds, Isaac Hayes, Nina Simone, Black Sabbath, B.B. King, the Youngbloods, Jefferson Airplane, Fleetwood Mac, Joe Cocker, Santana, Johnny Winter, Steve Miller, Van Morrison, Edgar Winter, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Deep Purple, Miles Davis, John Lennon, the Fugs, Iron Butterfly, John Sebastian, Crosby Stills Nash & Young, and dozens of other legends of rock. Some of these groups are still performing almost fifty years later. My mom saw Crosby Stills, Nash & Young at the Fillmore East in June 1970 and has seen them several times over the following 45 years- in which time their set list barely changed. About fifty live albums were recorded at the venue, some of which were not released until the past few years, and we probably haven’t seen the last of “Fillmore East Live” releases.

Historic Plaque installed by GVSHP in 2014.

Although most remember the venue as the Fillmore East, one Off the Grid commenter noted that this was a short-lived period in the building’s long life, taking up only three years of the buildings 90-year history. It opened in 1927 as the Commodore Theatre, which had an almost 40-year run in the space and served as a destination for several generations of East Village/Lower East Side residents. He remembers the venue as “a beautiful grand movie palace (the Commodore) of the 20’s, ornate and traditional in its architecture and was such for close to 40 years. Imagine, for 40 years families, lovers, children (like myself) enjoyed popular entertainment there, not to mention news reels, cartoons and short subjects. Yes, it housed live theater intermittently. And it was also one of the last venues at which that the immortal Al Jolson performed live, during a promotional tour of the bio-pic “Jolson Sings Again,” in 1950.”

The Village East closed in June, 1971 due to changes in the industry. The 2,600 seat capacity just couldn’t compete with the larger venues, and Graham moved on to produce more profitable concerts at huge arenas and festival grounds. Following its closure, several less acclaimed concert venues operated in the space, and in 1980 it reopened as the now-legendary gay nightclub The Saint. Apple Bank now operates on the first floor, with apartments upstairs replacing the famed concert hall. Read more about the history of the Fillmore East here. Check out some of the venue’s amazing concert poster art here.

In October, 2014, GVSHP recognized this history through our historic plaque program, when we installed the plaque above on the former site of the Fillmore East. See more images and read more about the plaque here.

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