Remembering the Fillmore East
Forty-four years ago today, music promoter Bill Graham opened the Fillmore East at 105 Second Avenue. This 2,600 seat venue hosted concerts from 1968 to 1971, including performances by the Allman Brothers Band, the Who, and the Doors. The venue was known for launching many seminal bands of the era, and because of its excellent acoustics, many albums were recorded there as well. The former lobby of the Fillmore East remains as a branch of Emigrant Bank, and reminders of the music venue exist in and around the building in the form of an exhibit in the lobby of the bank, the street name Bill Grahams Way, and a tile mosaic on the lamppost outside the building.
The site was originally home to the Commodore Theater, along the strip of theaters on 2nd Avenue that produced Yiddish Theater and was known as the Jewish Rialto. With earlier incarnations as a movie house, by the 1930s, live Yiddish drama and vaudeville appeared onstage and the theater was rented out for meetings and benefits to left-wing groups. The restaurant Ratner’s Second Avenue, located next door, was a favorite of theatergoers and Yiddish stage stars alike. As the Yiddish Rialto declined, the building once again became a home for movies and other performances and was home to performances by Lenny Bruce, Timothy Leary, and Allen Ginsberg. GVSHP is working on an architectural resource study of the East Village, and has been exploring the history of the Yiddish Theater through this project. You can learn about the Cafe Royal, the Saul Birns building, and the Yiddish Walk of Fame from these past OFF THE GRID posts.
Bill Graham’s Fillmore East was a spin-off venture from his concert venue the Fillmore in San Francisco, named for its original location at the intersection of Fillmore Street and Geary Boulevard. He ran two-show concerts, several times a week that attracted enthusiastic audiences. Among those performing at the Fillmore East were Elton John, Janis Joplin, Otis Redding, Grace Slick, the Allman Brothers Band, John Lennon and Frank Zappa. Graham staged occasional benefits as well, notably one for Eldridge Cleaver called, “Black Theater for the Black Panthers.” The venue was also famous for its state of the art light shows, led by Joshua White. Graham closed the Fillmore East in 1971 and went on to stage mega rock concerts in arenas, outdoor stadiums and parks.
In 1980, the building was converted into a private gay nightclub called the Saint, known for its brilliantly appointed dance floor and parties. In 1996, the theater portion of the building located on 6th Street was torn down to build a residential building, but the lobby portion of the building still exists. Its current tenant, a branch of Emigrant Bank, has an interesting mini-exhibit of the building’s history in its lobby.