22 East 12th Street: From Firehouse to Movie House
Cinema Village, located at 22 East 12th Street, is the oldest continuously operated cinema in Greenwich Village and one of the oldest continuously operated art cinemas in the city. Information from GVSHP’s research notes the following about the Cinema Village building: The façade appears to date from a 1964 alteration. The NB application shows that the structure was built as a three-story fire engine house in 1898 and designed by Horgan & Slattery for the City of New York. (Horgan & Slattery designed the Butterick Building at the Corner of 6th and Spring Streets in 1903 and other sites around the city during the early twentieth century).
The building at 22 East 12th Street remained in use as a firehouse until it was converted to a movie theater in the 1960s. A 1964 Certificate of Occupancy shows it was operating as a “moving picture theater and entrance lobby.” The theater opened on October 5th of that year with Ingmar Bergman’s All These Women. Through most of its early years, Cinema Village was one of the city’s many repertory cinemas, showcasing vintage movies, cult classics, and contemporary favorites on double bills (aka double features) that would usually change three times a week. This once essential programming format has mostly died out in commercial movie theaters throughout New York City and the United States.
By the late 1980s – and due to the surge in home video, buy outs by large-name theaters, and real estate development – commercial repertory cinema all but disappeared in New York City. Cinema Village escaped closure, surviving by presenting limited engagements of unconventional first run shows. In the early 1990s, before Jackie Chan, John Woo, Michele Yeoh and their stunt coordinators went to Hollywood, Cinema Village became known, through its annual festivals and other bookings, as the place to see the Hong Kong films of what would soon be acknowledged as a filmmaking golden age.
Click here to read about some Lost Theaters of the East Village.