Evergreen Theatre

53 E. 11th Street,
New York, NY 10003

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Opened in 1964 as an off-Broadway playhouse, known as the Renata Theatre. The owner Ozgur Zurer lived in an apartment above the theatre. It had simple clean lines in the auditorium, which is set back somewhat behind a long narrow lobbly.

In 1967, it was purchased by Grove Street Press and renamed Evergreen Theatre. In 1968, it switched to presenting art movies, premiering a number of significant and often provocative films. In June of 1968 it was in it’s fifth week of Andy Warhol’s “I, A Man” shown along with an underground newsreel. It was best known for its co-premiere of “I Am Curious, Yellow” (which also co-premiered at the Cinema Rendevous). By 1971, it had reverted to live shows. but before long it had been renamed Sobo Theatre and was showing gay porno films.

In 1976, the building was sold to the New York City Baha'i community and was converted into a house of worship, which has remained ever since. The auditorium was eventually named for John Birks ‘Dizzy’ Gillespie. Regular services are open to all, as are frequent concerts and other live performances that take place there.

Contributed by RobertR, David A. Litterer

Recent comments (view all 9 comments)

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on June 7, 2005 at 12:05 pm

I seem to remember an Evergreen Films distributorship from this period, theatrical and non-theatrical, specializing in off-beat product…associated with Evergreen Books, perhaps.

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on June 7, 2005 at 1:10 pm

This is now the address for the New York Baha'i Center, which has an auditorium named in honor of John Berks Gillespie (better known as “Dizzy”). I don’t know if this is a conversion of the Evergreen cinema, or a new building. The Evergreen was quite small and didn’t last very long.

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on June 7, 2005 at 1:54 pm

Movie star Carole Lombard and her mother were members of the Baha'i faith. In January, 1942, they died together in a plane crash while returning to Los Angeles from their native state of Indiana, where Lombard had been promoting the sale of U.S. war bonds.

AlAlvarez on June 7, 2005 at 3:08 pm

The 162 seat Evergreen started showing movies in early 1968 with FINNEGAN’S WAKE as an outlet for Grove Press Releases. It had previously run plays as the Renata. Its claim to fame was the opening of I AM CURIOUS (YELLOW) along with Cinema Rendezvous and it offered mail order reserved seats. The film played on and off for over a year. By 1970 Grove Press also moved into the Bleecker Street and temporarily renamed that the Evergreen Bleecker as well. It was caught up in a three cinema obscenity trial for showing the film CENSORSHIP IN DENMARK and by 1971 had reverted to live shows.

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on June 9, 2005 at 1:14 pm

The theatre first opened in October, 1964, as an off-Broadway playhouse called the Renata. Owner Oscar Zurer lived in an apartment above the theatre. Zurer had previously been a partner in another off-Broadway house known as the Renata, which operated from 1957-64 in converted premises at 144 Bleecker Street. After the Renata moved to its new home on 11th Street, I’m not sure what became of the old one, but I think it was used as a bar or nightclub. The new Renata remained an off-Broadway playhouse until purchased in 1967 by Grove Press, which changed the name to Evergreen in honor of its bi-monthly magazine and book imprint. The Evergreen opened on October 18 of that year with the provocative two-character stage play, “The Beard,” accompanied by a program of film strip and slide projections and a musical trio. After “The Beard” closed in January, 1968, the Evergreen switched to showing movies exclusively, starting with a revival of Grove’s own “Finnegan’s Wake.” Grove also owned the Cinema 16 library and intended to program some of it at the Evergreen. In September, 1968, it hosted the NYC premiere of the controversial feature documentary, “Warrendale.” Grove’s owner, Barney Rosset, sold the Evergreen to the Baha'i Church in January, 1976 for a reported $500,000.

RobertR on July 8, 2005 at 2:45 pm

In the early 70’s this was running gay porn as the Sobo Theatre
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AlAlvarez on May 10, 2006 at 11:16 am

The premiere reserved seat venue for I AM CURIOUS (YELLOW) is now a church???

I just did a spit take all over my computer!

Astyanax on May 12, 2006 at 8:24 am

In keeping with “Yellow”, the Evergreen also showcased Godard’s Weekend. The theater was almost too intimate for that film.

AlAlvarez on July 8, 2012 at 8:43 am

Apparently it was the SOHO for a few months before it became the SOBO.

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