S.V.A. Theatre

333 West 23rd Street,
New York, NY 10011

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Chelsea West - 2002

Viewing: Photo | Street View

Opened as the RKO 23rd Street Cinema in 1963 on 23rd Street between 8th Avenue and 9th Avenue 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 Theatre, Beekman Theatre, Ziegfeld Theatre, 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 Chelsea 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. By 2015 it was known as the S.V.A. Theatre

Contributed by Cinema Treasures, Howard B. Haas

Recent comments (view all 101 comments)

Meredith Rhule
Meredith Rhule on April 12, 2008 at 6:45 pm

saps, if I go to work there, are you coming over to visit? ;)

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) on April 12, 2008 at 11:35 pm

Just let me know when! Glad to hear you’re in New York.

Al Alvarez
Al Alvarez on May 20, 2008 at 1:00 pm

The intro should be corrected to reflect that Walter Reade, not Cineplex Odeon, tripled this theatre.

jwells on January 30, 2009 at 9:03 am

Gene Stavis told me the revised seating was going to be 480 for the main theater and 280 for theater 2. That was last year while they were still under construction.

KingBiscuits on September 26, 2009 at 3:57 pm

If you are still wondering Bob T., that movie you described was called Ronja: The Robber’s Daughter. It played for a week or two in May 1986.

Al Alvarez
Al Alvarez on January 14, 2010 at 2:25 pm

Inside the Visual Arts.

View link

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) on July 20, 2012 at 8:19 pm

I always thought this theater was a bit of a pain in the neck, and that BoxOffice article reminded me why — short lobby, steps down into lounge, entrance in the back, frosted white glass here and there — I never got its supposed charm.

Al Alvarez
Al Alvarez on July 20, 2012 at 9:14 pm

Totally disagree.

Lovely lobby with a 60’s style sunken seating area and a sprawling candy counter. Stadium seating in the main house thirty years before it became the industry norm. Woody Allen even made it his premiere house after the Beekman closed. A wonderful theatre!

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on June 16, 2013 at 11:29 pm

A brief article with photos of the last RKO 23rd Street Theatre appears on this page of the March, 1964, issue of International Projectionist. The house was designed by architect John J. McNamara, in collaboration with Herman J. Jessor, architect of the Penn Station South development, in which the theater was located.

Logan5 on September 24, 2014 at 11:37 am

“The Rocketeer” showed at the [Cineplex Odeon] 23rd Street West Triplex in 70mm 6-Track Dolby Stereo SR beginning on Friday June 21, 1991 (the film’s nationwide release date).

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