8th Street Playhouse

52 W. 8th Street,
New York, NY 10011

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RobertR
RobertR on April 4, 2005 at 7:43 pm

When you first walked in the box office was on your right and was a window in the center of the wall, and I believe the managers office was behind it. You walked past the ticket taker and the next area of the lobby was larger. There was a decent sized concession stand and some leather couches. The walls were grey, black and white and decorated with posters of coming attractions. Then there were the doors to the auditorium which when you entered had a large wide isle in the back. If you went into the theatre it had three secions and two aisles. In the rear left (if you were facing the screen) were the stairs to the second floor lounge, rest rooms and projection booth. There was no balcony. The theatre if I rember right was painted grey with black trim. On either side of the screen were two neon sculptures that were lit at intermission and blinked to the beat of the music. The sound system was top notch at least when it was an independant and a City Cinemas. I was only there 2x when UA had the place and the films I saw were mono revivals. The place was always clean, slightly a little ruff around the edges at times, but by no means run down. I believe when City Cinemas booked it they did some painting and might have put down new carpets. I don’t think there was ever a platter it was always 2 projectors with 6000 foot reels.

br91975
br91975 on March 31, 2005 at 11:30 am

What was the general layout of the 8th Street Playhouse? Was the decor kept up-to-date, rundown, somewhere in between? The only physical remembrance I have of it as a moviehouse was when it was boarded-up after City Cinemas pulled out and before TLA Video moved into the space.

hardbop
hardbop on March 31, 2005 at 11:25 am

Boy, does this bring back memories. I lived right around the corner from this cinemas for most of the eighties. I remember when “The Big Chill” came out and there was quite a bit of discussion about that film and the similarities between that film and Sayles' “Return of the Secaucus 7”. The 8th St. Playhouse revived the Sayles film. I remember the line was around the block, snaking down Sixth Avenue when the long version of Leonne’s “Once Upon a Time in America” screened there (I was in the line.)

And I remember the brief period when it was a rep house well. I remember that was my first introduction to Claude Chabrol. They did a Chabrol retro.

And I was at some of those screenings posted by Robert. I remember seeing “La Belle Noiseuse” there the “The Wall”/“Song Remains the Same” double-bill.

I also remember cutting out of work early on a Friday afternoon and seeing a “Giant”/“Rebel Without a Cause” double bill.

JKauf
JKauf on March 27, 2005 at 3:57 am

I used to have a friend who lived at 58 West 8th, just down the block from the theatre. I remember seeing Yellow Submarine there.

42ndStreetMemories
42ndStreetMemories on March 19, 2005 at 1:20 pm

Looking at some newspaper ads from the 50s, the theater is listed as a Rugoff-Becker theater, along with the Gramercy, Art, Beekman & Austin. Some of the features: “Arsenic & old Lace” with “Inspector General”. Rene Clair’s “Gates of Paris” with “Virtous Scoundrel”; Sophia Loren “Miller’s Beautiful Wife” with “Love & Jealousy”; Fellini’s “White Shiek”; along with occasional mainstream single features like “To Catch A Thief”, “Prince & The Showgirl”.

Richardhaines
Richardhaines on March 19, 2005 at 9:11 am

I just recalled something strange about their 3-D festival. In some showings they changed the aspect ratio of the films. I recall seeing “Dial M for Murder” and “Kiss Me Kate” in both full frame and cropped 1.85 ratios there. I’m not sure which one is considered accurate. Both movies were filmed and printed full frame but I know “Kiss Me Kate” was originally cropped in 1953 and advertised as ‘widescreen’ as well as 3-D to jump on the CinemaScope band wagon. I think they play better in 1.33 personally.

Richardhaines
Richardhaines on March 13, 2005 at 3:19 pm

There was also a film book store on the same block.

Richardhaines
Richardhaines on March 13, 2005 at 3:17 pm

Aside from the spectacular 3-D festival which featured the east coast premiere of “Dial M for Murder in 3-D”, they also had a “Silent Clowns Festival” which was a tie in with the Walker Kerr
book. Live organ was played with each film.

If memory serves, I believe they played original nitrate prints from
Rohauer and other collectors. I recall the opening of “Seven Chances” even had the two color Technicolor prologue. “The Rink” was tinted and toned. The Keaton movies had better contrast and sharpness than any dupe copy shown afterwards which is why I think
they showed originals. I specifically recall “The High Sign” and
“Sherlock Jr.” sparkling on the screen. When they later played them at the Lincoln Plaza cinema a few years later, they were grainy washed out dupes. If they did indeed play original nitrate they were probably circumventing fire laws but the festival sure looked
great.

If anyone else can recall who played the organ and what specific year it was run (somewhere from 1975-1979) I would appreciate a follow up post.

8th Street Playhouse also played some unusual double bills while I was at NYU. I recall one of the strangest was a pairing of “Lawrence of Arabia” and “Dr. Strangelove”. Spent most of the day there with that show.

It was one of the great repertory cinemas of the era. The silver screen was large and went from wall to wall without curtains. They had black strips than came down from the ceiling to mask off 1.85 films. About the only bad show was a screening of “Gone with the Wind” which they played in 1.85 instead of 1.33. Otherwise, presentation was quite good. In the 3-D festival they played an original Technicolor stereo pair of “Kiss Me Kate”. The film jammed and burned during the screening the audience laughed but I cringed, realizing it was probably the only surviving Technicolor prints of this film.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on February 27, 2005 at 11:33 am

According to a Village Voice ad the 8th Street Playhouse presented an interesting “Sleaze Festival” in March of 1983. A line in the ad read: “FILMS NOT SEEN OUTSIDE OF DRIVE-INS IN THE DEEP SOUTH.” The program:
March 9: Night of the Bloody Apes & The Last Survivor (imported horror)
March 10: Good Morning – and Goodbye! & Common Law Cabin (early Russ Meyer films)
March 11 & 12: I Spit on Your Grave & Axe (female revenge)
March 13: Bloodthirsty Butchers & The Man With Two Heads (Andy Milligan horror)
March 14: Africa Addio & Mondo Cane (Mondo gross-outs)
March 15: The Big Bird Cage & The Girl in Room 2A (women in chains)

JoeF
JoeF on February 8, 2005 at 3:25 pm

Does anyojne have any phots of the 8th Street Playhouse. I worked there for much of the 80’s and am trtying to write something about the period. I would appreciate any help. JoeF

RobertR
RobertR on December 12, 2004 at 7:27 pm

sethkino

Yes UA did indeed spread their magic on the 8th Steet Playhouse, but only for a short time. Read the posting above about them taking the projectors.

sethbook
sethbook on November 16, 2004 at 8:52 am

Did UA ever run the 8th St. Playhouse? They did have a twin theatre down the road which is now run by NYU for film screenings. The 8th St. Playhouse is now a TLA Video, which is notable because the video store chain always honors its stores' histories. In Philadelphia, a TLA store is so named for the Theatre of the Living Arts, a live theatre whose space they took over. The NYC store has a writeup in store about the cinema, and has a sample film schedule from its days as a repertory house.

I saw the Talking Heads' movie, “True Stories,” there in 1986 when it was a first-run theatre. The last film I saw there was “King of Hearts,” when it was a repertory house again. That was probably in the early 1990s, shortly before it closed.

The cinema was supposedly the first “pure cinema,” as it had no theatre-like curtains opening and closing with the feature presentations, and was built as a cinema and not a theatre. The old projection booth is still up there if you go into the video store. For what it’s worth, TLA is a fantastic video store. The only one I patronize. It’s between work and home, and home is 65 blocks north.

br91975
br91975 on November 5, 2004 at 11:35 am

The 8th Street Playhouse closed its doors for good in late October/early November of ‘92, before the schedule of films Robert lists above ran its course.

RobertR
RobertR on October 3, 2004 at 7:54 am

I just came across this flyer from the Fall 92 repertory festival at the 8th St. This was when City Cinemas was booking the theatre. They started with first run and then gave revival a shot.
8/19 La Belle Noiseuse
8/21 Duck Soup & Animal Crackers & Horsefeathers
8/23 Pinocchio & Cyrano De Bergerac
8/26 Via Appia
9/6 2001 & Full Metal Jacket
9/2 La Dolce Vita
9/4 Pink Floyd the Wall & Song Remains the Same
9/6 2001 & Full Metal Jacket
9/9 Slacker & The Graduate
9/11 Wild at Heart & 9 ½ Weeks
9/13 Toto Le Heros & 400 Blows
9/16 Poison & Tongues Untied
9/18 Room With a View & Maurice
9/20 Children of Paradise
9/23 The Vanishing & Wages of Fear
9/25 Shadows of Fog & Kakfa
9/27 Daughters of the Dust & Mississippi Marsala
9/30 Noises Off & This is My Life
10/2 Prosperos Books & Edward 2
10/4 Citizen Kane & King Kong
10/7 Rambling Rose & Poison Ivy
10/9 Brazil
10/11 Cabaret & Something for Everyone
10/14 Last Picture Show & Texasville
10/16 Jules & Jim & Black Orpheus
10/18 Batman Returns & Pee Wee’s Big Adventure
10/21 Road Warrior & Deliverance
10/23 Now Voyager & Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte
10/25 The Devils & Women In Love
10/28 Blow Up & Red Dessert
10/30 Performance & The Shining
11/1 Alien & Aliens & Alien 3
11/4 Cannes Festival of Humor
11/8 Rear Window & Vertigo
11/11 Lovers & Basic Instinct
11/13 Fearless Vampire Killers & Freaks

br91975
br91975 on September 24, 2004 at 7:21 am

Five of the upstairs auditoriums at the Battery Park Stadium are being or have been converted to a DSW Shoe Warehouse outlet. United Artists had an option to surrender that space within a few years' time, an option now-UA owner Regal chose to exercise.

dave-bronx™
dave-bronx™ on September 24, 2004 at 4:35 am

Mikeoaklandpark – the Battery Park theatre, being across the street from the World Trade Center, may have issues remaining from 9/11. While working at the WTC site with the PD from 9/11 until December ‘01, the only damage to the theatre I saw was broken glass. But keep in mind that the area was closed to the public for months afterward, and the theatre sat there with broken windows and open to the elements – there may be mold or other contamination problems in some areas of the building and may be sealed off.

dave-bronx™
dave-bronx™ on September 24, 2004 at 12:11 am

UA had the 8th St Playhouse for a number of years, and true to their reputation let the place run down. around 1988 or 89 they were invited to vacate the premises by the landlord because they also stopped paying the rent. The landlord asked City Cinemas to run it for a while. When we went in there we found UA had taken the projection equipment and the marquee letters, all of which belonged to the landlord, and he had to threaten them with court action to make them bring it back. Since we didn’t have a long-term lease, we fixed it up a little with a good cleaning, new carpet, re-upholstered the old seats and rebuilt the candy stand.

br91975 is correct about the Quad, it was always operated by its owner. Golden (a film booking agency, not a theatre operator) and City Cinemas only booked the films for him.

Mikeoaklandpark
Mikeoaklandpark on July 9, 2004 at 5:38 am

I rememebr seeing Rocky Horror there for the first time. This theater is also featured in the 1980 movie FAME.
Does anybody know what happened at the UA Battery Park Stadium. It was originally 16 theaters, but now is only 11?

br91975
br91975 on July 8, 2004 at 8:12 pm

What a remarkable set of photographs; thanks for posting those! After the Film Guild Cinema years, the 8th Street Playhouse was an independent for several more decades, until B.S. Moss took over. Sometime in the late 1980s/very early 90s, B.S. Moss sold the leases to their theatrical properties to two chains which would operate each of those venues until their respective bitter ends – United Artists (Movieland 8th Street Triplex and the Criterion Center) and City Cinemas, in the case of the 8th Street Playhouse. The Quad, contrary to what Robert initially wrote, was never run by City Cinemas; to my knowledge, it’s been independently run at least since Golden pulled out around ‘88.

MarcoAcevedo
MarcoAcevedo on July 8, 2004 at 1:55 pm

You can see the “cat’s eye” screen and interior of Kiesler’s original Film Guild Cinema here
and a sketch by Kiesler of what is presumably a concept for the ceiling and wall projections that Dan W. mentions above
and lastly anoverview of Kiesler’s work

MarcoAcevedo
MarcoAcevedo on July 8, 2004 at 1:18 pm

The Eighth Street Playhouse, the Bleeker Street Cinema and Art D'Lugoff’s nightclub the Village Gate were vibrant hallmarks of my Greenwich Village college days, and I sadly admit that at the time, not that long ago, I took them completely for granted. I thought they’d be around for at least another generation or two! The groovy curved facade of Electric Ladyland Studios (where Hendrix once recorded) next door to the Playhouse has also been completely altered. The main floor of the video store is what is left of the auditorium; turn around after you walk into the middle of the store and you will see the old projection booth above the entrance, complete with the tiny projection windows.

There is a really interesting tidbit of history regarding the old Film Guild Cinema in David Skal’s book on the cinematic Dracula, “Hollwood Gothic.” Apparently this was the venue for the American premiere of F.W. Murnau’s “Nosferatu” in June 1929; according to Skal, the Film Guild was part of a “little” art cinema movement which arose in reaction to the commercial palaces like the Roxy. The screen of the Film Guild Cinema was surrounded by a CIRCULAR proscenium called a “screenoscope”, with adjustable curved scrims rather than conventional drape curtains, giving the screen the appearance of a giant cat’s eye!! It has to be seen to be believed; fortunately Skal reproduces a rare shot of the interior in his book. Unlike the lavish movie palaces of the 20s (which of course I also love), the original Film Guild interior suggested not the sentimental exoticism of faraway countries and epochs, but the cool mystery and futurism of the art of cinema itself: the projection and perception of black and white, light and shadow. What a place to see Nosferatu for the first time!

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on July 8, 2004 at 9:19 am

I believe I saw Hitchcock’s “Dial M for Murder” here in 3-D during the 1980s series. The cinema had a distinctive history as a mostly second-run art house, although sometimes they did some first-run presentations.

A bit of esoterica follows. As a lover of Italian films, one of the “lost” movies of the 1950s I’d most like to see is something called “Alone in the Streets” (“Soli per le strade.”) It was directed by Silvio Siano and is kind of a minor-league “Shoe Shine,” about orphaned youngsters runnning wild in the Naples area. It had its New York premiere at the 8th Street Playhouse in June of 1956, got a glowing review from A. H. Weiler of the New York Times, was distributed for a time in 16mm by Audio Film Center, then descended into full oblivion in the U.S. as well as in Italy.

cygneboy
cygneboy on July 8, 2004 at 8:37 am

The building was designed by Frederick Kiesler and originally called “film Guild Cinema” It opened in 1929 and used some innovative features such as a screen which adjusted in size and shape to counteract angular distortion and was originally planned to have film projected onto the walls and cieling. The original facade was an homage to the DeStijl movement that Kiesler was associated with, although it is difficult to see this now.

William
William on November 14, 2003 at 2:45 pm

The Eighth Street Playhouse was located at 52 W. 8th Street.

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on October 7, 2003 at 10:38 pm

I remember Rocky Horror at this theater — midnight showings Fridays and Saturdays. It was as much a theatrical experience as a movie — and the cult grew right here, as RobertR indicates. I remember the screen was set back in a sort of rectangular recess that had a bright zig-zag of neon tubing on either side that would be lit until the movie started. I saw every rock and roll film ever made during the many summer festivals that played here over the years… Woodstock, Monterey Pop, Grateful Dead Movie, Pink Floyd at Pompeii, Ladies and Gentlemen the Rolling Stones… and even an unexpectedly pornographic cult flick called Cafe Flesh. And afterwards, there was a wonderful little pizzeria just across the street that was slightly below street level where one could have a post-screening dissection of the film over a slice and a beer.

Located on the south side of West 8th street not quite midway between 6th and 5th Avenues.