Variety Theatre

110 3rd Avenue,
New York, NY 10003

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Showing 1 - 25 of 71 comments

mfabiano on June 29, 2016 at 7:29 pm

I lived in NY for a short time in 1995. I lived on 22nd St between 1st and 2nd Ave. On the weekends I would walk through the East Village, via 3rd Ave. I remember the 1st time I saw the Variety Theater. It was modest and practical. It was a theater that looked just that, a theater, nothing ornate or remarkable about it. I had never even stepped inside, yet each time I passed it on my weekend walks, I felt a sense of wonder about this place. Can’t explain why. I would imagine all the history that was made there in years gone by. One day while walking with a friends, I spotted Valerie Harper standing in front of the theater, she had been doing a play. Being huge Rhoda fans, we got her autograph. One of the fondest memories I have from living in NY is walking past the Variety. I miss the its shabby splendor,its name in lights and reading the marquee.

DavidZornig on June 12, 2016 at 8:04 pm

1986 photo added, photo credit Matt Weber.

Ed Solero
Ed Solero on May 29, 2013 at 7:04 pm

Here’s a direct link to Uwe’s most excellent series of images. Thank you, sir, for documenting this historic building just before it would have been too late!

robboehm on May 27, 2013 at 4:19 pm

Can you get the photos on this site. Flickr accounts tend to be unavailable in time.

Uwe_Friedrich on May 27, 2013 at 8:50 am

He guys, found your wonderfull web site. Stayed in NYC from 1989 until 1991. One day on my way to work I have got the chance to take a couple of picturs from the inside of »Variety Photo Play« at 110 Third Avenue – before they reopend. You can see the pictures (album) on my »Flickr account«, look for »friedrich_berlin«. Best wishes from Berlin town, Uwe.

cblog on November 5, 2012 at 2:53 am

I never went to this theater, but remember looking in the open door of the old man’s bar next door, complete with old men’s old dogs asleep next to their bar stools. Probably could get a short beer for fifteen cents.

Al Alvarez
Al Alvarez on September 18, 2012 at 8:27 am

The Variety stopped showing films in the fall of 1989.

Al Alvarez
Al Alvarez on March 25, 2011 at 7:14 pm

I think that was the Bleecker Street in DSS.

celaniasdawn on March 25, 2011 at 5:49 pm

In the Madonna film Desperately Seeking Susan, there are several shots of the theater, including a interior scene of the auditorium. I don’t know if the interior was the actual theater, but from what you could see, it looked very old, with very plain walls.

artpf on December 13, 2009 at 4:28 pm

In the early 80s this theatre would alternate between XXX and bizarre regular movies (mostly horror or westerns that you never ever heard of).

I remember watching one horror flic and 45 minutes in, it suddenly turned into another movie! The producers just edited a different film onto the ending!

The place stunk of cigars and the guy who took your tickets had a giant motorcycle chain across his chest!

The oddest thing I remember was just before the movie started women would walk down the aisles saying “last chance” and old codgers would get up and go out with them through one of two exit doors on either side of the screen!

Al Alvarez
Al Alvarez on November 12, 2009 at 7:31 am

There was a STAR THEATRE at 136 Third Avenue in the mid thirties, early forties. Does anyone have any info on that one?

robboehm on June 5, 2009 at 6:06 pm

Warren, I can’t open this photo, is the problem at my end? I used to work in the Gramercy Park area and often took a lunchtime stroll past the Variety. It was certainly vintage. The only time I was actually inside was for an off-Broadway performance of, I think, Annie Warbucks. No real memory of the interior – not as impressive as the exterior.

theatrelvr on September 28, 2008 at 11:45 pm

I remember seeing the first off-broadway play that came to Variety in late 80s/90s. Also saw another play and saw Mike Nichols/Diane Sawyer sitting in front of me. This was a theater with charm and personality. Charm and personality are foreign concepts in today’s NYC.

esheinart on May 15, 2008 at 8:24 pm

Louis Sheinart, the architect of the Variety, was my great, great (maybe one more great?) uncle. I used to pass by the Variety many times when I attended the OLD Stuyvesant High School at 16th Street and 1st Avenue in the mid 1980s. Little did I know until many years later, that there was a family connection! Louis also designed several other theaters listed on this site. Unfortunately my family knows little about him, such as where he studied architecture, etc. If anyone has more information, it would be greatly appreciated! Thank you for the nice photographs and comments. I know Louis would have been proud! esheinart

Profjoe on November 28, 2007 at 2:50 pm

NYU is NOT a University. It is a real estate investment firm, of some sort. This has been true since the sixties.

As a former student then adjunct lecturer I can tell you for a fact that there is no amount of money on the planet that would let me permit any child of mine to attend it.

Furthermore, since the real estate industry is in bed with the press there is little hope of even hearing about such atrocities as the tearing down of the old Academy, Luchow’s, or the Variety.

Unless you are all willing to “take it to the streets” and fight what’s happening, it will get worse. Although I don’t know what’s left for them to destroy.

JenniferN79 on October 25, 2007 at 8:09 pm

I was looking through the collection of “New York” periodicals from 1979 in my college library. At that time their was a column called “Page of Lists” and in one issue it was devoted to the longest running movie theaters. This theater was 1st on the list!

Bloop on July 2, 2007 at 10:57 pm

I agree 100% with the above poster “Irv"
NYC now feels like Aaron Spelling had just dumped off thousands of his kids that just came into their trust funds…and the money is burning a hole in their pockets…. totally creepy!

br91975 on November 16, 2006 at 8:44 am

After a long delay, construction on the ghastly apartment tower (ghastly for those who consider what happened to the Variety Theatre, in the name of creating space for yet another ‘whatever’ luxury living monolith) resumed about 2-3 weeks ago.

AlexNYC on October 6, 2006 at 3:47 pm

Just an update, they are building a huge monstrosity on the old Variety Theatre site, 20 stories high, probably another NYU dorm building. Last week there was a huge crane accident, they closed off the surrounding streets around 13 Street & 3rd Avenue, took a couple of days until they removed the all the dangers. I don’t believe anybody was seriously hurt though. What a drastic change to the neighborhood, so sad.

Al Alvarez
Al Alvarez on May 3, 2006 at 1:45 pm

Hardbop, the Universal is listed here as MUSIC PALACE.

hardbop on May 3, 2006 at 12:54 pm

You know I had the same reaction yesterday as I was walking to Loew’s Village East to catch a film in the Tribeca Film Festival and noticed a hole in the ground where the Variety Arts Theatre used to be. I said to myself “was the VAT here or was it on Second Avenue?” Right next door is a Mission and there is a “Jesus Saves” sign on the facade. I guess he couldn’t save the VAT.

Now, here is a question for our mavens. Right before I went to the LVE I caught a documentary that the Tribeca FF screened at the Jewish Heritage Museum in Tribeca called ON THE BOWERY that has recently been restored in Italy. The doc was riveting and there was all this on-location photography of the bars, flop houses and general seediness under the old Third Avenue El. It is beyond belief to watch this and compare it to what the area looks like today with luxury condos built on site of flophouses.

The date of the doc was 1957, but it had to have been shot well before that because I thought the Third Avenue El came down earlier than 1957 but there is a shot of what looked like a theatre on the Bowery, under the El. The front, what looked like a marquee, said “Universal Photoplay.” I didn’t see it listed here under that name so it is possible it is listed, but under another name. It looked like the Variety Arts Theatre, but I didn’t know skid row went all the way up to 14th St. The El must have gone right by Variety Arts so who knows? But there was a theatre or something that looked like a theatre on the Bowery under the El called “Universal Photoplay.”

markane on April 25, 2006 at 5:54 am

To finalize this, the building next door (home to John Belushi, when he first arrived in NYC)was torn down as well.

A 21 story condominium is in the process of being built on the site. One bedroom condos start at $850,000.00.

The neighborhood is not changing, it’s over.

Nadjariley on April 5, 2006 at 9:00 pm

Hi—I’m doing research on Rat Subterranean News for an article I’m writing on underground press. I noticed that a couple of you mentioned it in your comments (Chelydra and Skank Dude)—I was wondering if you’d be willing to answer a few questions about the paper. Please contact me if so. Thank you.

Mike (saps)
Mike (saps) on March 23, 2006 at 4:23 am

Here is the text of J.P. Valensi’s excellent post:

STREETSCAPES: Variety Photo Plays Theater; Marquee’s Lights Are Dark on 1914 ‘Nickelodeon’

Published: September 3, 1989

IT’S hard to put your finger on what was special about it. Perhaps it was the aura of the early days of the movies, but the 1914 Variety Photo Plays Theater at 110 Third Avenue was unforgettable when it was in operation.

Now the theater’s distinctive lightbulb marquee is dark, the property is vacant and being shown to potential buyers and, according to Michael Lerner, the leasing agent, a final decision – to sell, net lease or demolish the building – will come on Sept. 12.

The earliest movie theaters were just ad hoc alterations of spaces of opportunity, like a saloon or a storefront. According to the theater historian Michael R. Miller, these turn-of-the-century nickelodeons, where admission was usually nickel, were not superseded by specifically built movie theaters until 1908, when the Nicholand and Prospect Pleasure Palace went up in the Bronx.

By the early 1910’s, perhaps 100 theaters built for movies had gone up in New York City. They were good businesses and clustered near high-traffic sites. In 1914, one promoter, Jacob Valensi, secured a 15-year lease on a plot on the west side of Third Avenue, just south of the 14th Street stop of the elevated. There he built a two-story theater, according to Mr. Miller’s research, on a site previously occupied by a theater operation. Although filed as a new building, the theater actually used some of the perimeter walls of an older structure; the theater could in some ways be considered to pre-date 1914.

In its name – Valensi’s Variety Photo Plays – it sought an association with legitimate theater endeavors, of which 14th Street had been a center since the 1850’s.

Designed by Louis Sheinart, the exterior of Variety Photo Plays was in plain brick, generally unornamented except for arcaded piers projecting above a sloping tiled false roof. Mr. Miller called Sheinart ‘'a minor, minor architect of many, many theaters’‘ in this period.

Inside, the auditorium was fairly plain, but did have a slightly pitched floor and fixed seats, still novel touches in an industry that had started only recently with plain benches and sheets hung on a wall.

It is not clear if the walls have lost some architectural effect – they are now mostly patched plaster – but the ceiling is covered with modestly patterned pressed tin. Four large Tiffany-type half-globe lighting fixtures have somehow survived, and the simple fixed seats bear a ‘'V’‘ on the end panels.

There are rooftop louvered vents, still remote-controlled with chains that hang down in the middle of the theater, and a great square panel in the center, perhaps 30 feet across, is what remains of a sliding roof used in the days before air-conditioning.

Variety Photo Plays originally seated 450 and, according to Mr. Miller, probably first presented groups of two-reelers, collections of individual features, each 15 or 20 minutes long. This was at a period when the feature-length film was still uncommon and films in general were generally considered low-culture – ‘'photo plays’‘ or not.

By the early 1920’s, nickelodeons like the Variety Photo Plays were being supplanted by larger houses seating one or two thousand, and if the Variety was ever a first-rank theater, it surely must have begun a downward slide at that time.

In 1923, a marquee was added, designed by Julius Eckman. In 1930, a balcony seating 150 and a new lobby were installed by the architects Boak & Paris, who also made over the 1923 marquee. The lobby is nondescript neo-Renaissance and it is the marquee that has made the theater special, at least to modern eyes. Boak & Paris did not change the Eckman marquee’s underside, a coffered field with regularly spaced bulbs, but did add a zigzag Art Deco fascia in enameled metal and neon lighting. The fascia gives the theater’s, rather than the show’s, name and recalls the period when movies were more of a generic product. The lights buzzing on the underside of the marquee, when they were on, enveloped the passerby in a warm, glowing field. People going past the theater, even in the daytime, got a whiff of vintage celluloid, and at night it was intoxicating.

HE film fare over the last 30 years gradually shifted from B-grade to raunchy to naughty to pornographic, and added a slightly forbidden, Coney Island spice to the building. A 10-year-old schoolboy who somehow found himself on lower Third Avenue would walk straight by but keep his eyes glued to the pictures on the billboards outside the ticket booth.

Earlier this year the Department of Health closed the Variety Photo Plays, which was operating as a gay movie theater. Now it is still and musty inside, its 1940’s candy machine empty, its projection booth a small museum of antique apparatus – carbon arc projection lighting was discontinued only a few years ago. The owner, the 110-112 Third Avenue Realty Corporation, includes members of the same families who owned it since the 1920’s. In their hands lies the fate of a institution that will live on at least in the memories of many New Yorkers.