Built in 1926, the Loew’s Commodore Theater at 105 2nd Avenue between 6th and 7th Streets was used as a movie theater, Loew’s vaudeville circuit theater, and Yiddish vaudeville theater. But for the sake of space, let’s skip ahead to the 1960s, my group’s research period. Bill Graham, the impresario behind the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco, purchased the Village Theater in 1968 and changed the name to the Fillmore East. This venue is legendary in the minds of the young hippies and rock fans who attended shows there between 1968 and 1971 when it was the place to see music in New York. Every major act at the time came through the Fillmore, including Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Miles Davis, and Jefferson Airplane. Graham decided to close the theater in 1971, citing the increase in hard drugs and the exorbitant rates that bands had begun to charge. The neighborhood also seemed to take on a harder edge as the hippies left or became drug addicts.
After some unsuccessful attempts by newcomers to revive the Fillmore as a rock venue, it was time for a new subculture to claim the space. The Saint opened in 1980 and soon became the most popular gay discotheque in the city. Many (mostly white) gay men still have happy memories of dancing from midnight till noon at the extravagant club. Tragically, by 1985 AIDS had killed nearly half the Saint’s regulars; colloquially, it became known as “Saint’s disease.” In an effort to keep going, the club started to allow in straight people. In 1989 it closed for good.
The decline of the Saint coincides with the gentrification of the East Village. Developers and landlords worked together to force out longtime residents, redevelop the lots or renovate the housing stock, and rent the apartments to younger, wealthier white people. The building was sold in 1994 and demolished to make way for “Hudson East,” an upscale apartment complex at 225 East 6th Street. The 2nd Avenue frontage, still intact, now houses an Emigrant Savings Bank.