Visual Arts Theatre
333 West 23rd Street,
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Opened as the RKO 23rd Street in 1963 on 23rd Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenues and was originally a single screen movie house. The RKO 23rd Street auditorium had a large lower section of seats, and an upper section of seats, like the Astor Plaza, Beekman, Ziegfeld, and others.
During the 1970’s, Roundabout Theatre plays replaced movies here.
Over the years, the green-gilded theatre has been extensively renovated. In the 1980’s, Cineplex Odeon triplexed the theatre by twinning the lower section of seats and converting the mezzanine into another auditorium. In 1996, Cineplex Odeon un-twinned the lower section and renamed what became a two screener as the Chelsea West Cinemas.
Shortly after the renovation, Cineplex Odeon merged with Loews and due to an antitrust agreement, divested this theatre. Clearview took over. The two screen Chelsea West Cinemas was booked as a combined eleven-screener with the nearby Chelsea Cinemas 9, that is just down the street. The theater was tastefully maintained, but lost its 1960’s flourishes, save the green tile on the facade and in the bathrooms. Clearview ceased operating the Chelsea West on February 10, 2008.
In 2006, the School of Visual Arts began a 26 year lease on the theatre, to use it as a repertory and special event venue, and renamed it the Visual Arts Theatre. Some people had expected the School to takeover a theatre on the eastern end of its campus, but that instead became a concert venue, the Blender Theatre at Gramercy. Designer Milton Glaser renovated the exterior and interior of the Chealsea West, retaining the two auditoriums with 300 and 550 seats. Upgrades will be made so the theatre can present digital, 3-D, as well as 35mm and 70mm. There will be tie-ins with the Museum of Moving Image, and possibly other organizations. On April 2, 2008, the Visual Arts Theatre presented its first film, the premiere of “Cook County” in the Glen Arts Film Festival.
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