The short life of a 1960s East Village rock venue

The unassuming building a 105 Second Avenue has a long history catering to popular entertainment.

In the 1920s, the venue served as a Yiddish Theater at a time when Second Avenue had so many similar theaters, the street was nicknamed the Jewish Rialto. By the 1940s, the space was turned into a movie palace known as the Leow’s Commodore (below in 1940).

And in the 1960s it was transformed once again for an entirely different audience: young rock fans flocking to the recently christened East Village eager to see bands like the Doors, the Allman Brothers, and other stars of the late 1960s music scene.

Named the Fillmore East by concert promoter Bill Graham and opened on March 8, 1968, it was the New York version of his San Francisco concert hall the Fillmore. With Graham at the helm, the place became legendary.

“Graham operated a tight ship, demanding nothing less than excellence from his staff and the artists who inhabited his stage,” wrote Corbin Reiff in a 2016 Rolling Stone article.

“To him, everything was about the fan experience, and he went out of his way to provide the best kind of atmosphere to take in a live performance, from the ornate, hand-rendered posters he printed up to announce the gigs…and even the barrel of free apples he left out for people departing at the end of the night.”

“As a result, the bands and artists who played the Fillmore East, as well as its San Francisco counterpart, typically went the extra mile,” continued Reiff. “For just $3, $4 or $5, you, as a ticketholder, were granted a pass to be taken to someplace truly magical.”

Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Neil Young, Led Zeppelin, and Pink Floyd all hit the stage. But it might have been the Doors who gave the most hypnotic performance.

In the audience for one of their shows was future star Patti Smith; Robert Mapplethorpe had worked there and gave her a free pass. She recounted the experience in her powerful memoir about their relationship amid the late 1960s and early 1970s city in Just Kids. While the audience was transfixed by Jim Morrison, she “observed his every move in a state of cold hyperawareness.”

“He exuded a mixture of beauty and self-loathing, and mystic pain, like a West Coast Saint Sebastian,” wrote Smith, who right then realized she could do what Morrison was doing. “When anyone asked how the Doors were, I just said they were great. I was somewhat ashamed of how I had responded to their concert.”

For a rock venue with such a hallowed reputation, it lasted a very short time—just three years. “At the time, Mr. Graham blamed the greediness of some top rock musicians who he, said would rather play a 20,000‐seat ball like Madison Square Garden (one hour’s work, $50,000) than the 2,600‐seat Fillmore East (about four hours’ work, roughly $20, 000),” stated the New York Times on the club’s closing night, June 29, 1971.

That wasn’t the end of 105 Second Avenue’s life as a music venue. In the 1980s it was resurrected as the dance club The Saint. Today, the ground floor is—what else?—a bank branch.

[Top photo: NYC Department of Records and Information Services; second image: ultimateclassicrock.com; third image: Yale Joel/LIFE Magazine]

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22 Responses to “The short life of a 1960s East Village rock venue”

  1. Gia Says:

    How did this little skinny building hold nearly 3000 people???

  2. Mykola Mick Dementiuk Says:

    In the early 1960s, I was just a kid, had a chance to see comedian Jerry Lewis there. Place was sold out, even had people standing in the open spaces. Though I hung out on the local streets didn’t care to see any of the crazy groups back then. So I missed it, hoop de duh…

    • Mykola Mick Dementiuk Says:

      Anyway, what I meant to say: I met Patti Smith in the late 1960s at Scriber’s Bookstore on 5th Ave. She worked as a salesgirl, I was a stockboy. Even back then she was freaky and weird. She’d come to stock room to get a book, other stock boys would hoot and holler. Wonder how many went and saw her later concerts?

      • ephemeralnewyork Says:

        She mentions working there in her memoir…and if I remember correctly she didn’t have a place to live and crashed there at night too!

  3. Scuba Diva Says:

    I got to go to The Saint once when I was a student at Cooper Union, as part of a class in the architecture school called “Of Light Divine.”

    I’m pointing this out because your article doesn’t mention that The Saint had a planetarium dome.

  4. Larry Gertner Says:

    1) In the bank lobby (the former entrance) is a good display about the buildings past. 2) Walk down East 6th Street and there’s anoth plaque at 225 on the building that replaced the actual theater. 3) Between June 2007 – June 2021, Irving Plaza was rebranded as “The Fillmore” with a totally trashy canopy. It was since returned to normal.

  5. michael porrazzo Says:

    There was the Academy of Music on 14th Street which also has many top groups entertaining

  6. Mona Says:

    Saw Jethro Tull there about 7 times in the 3 years.

  7. John Says:

    Interesting that Ratner’s was located on the corner at 103 2nd Avenue and then moved to 111 2nd Ave. Anyone know when they moved?

    • james Says:

      I remember Ratner’s on Delancey, a dairy only Kosher restaurant. I ate there often in the 80’s. I believe they closed in the 90’s.

  8. Matt G. Says:

    I often joke that, before long, Manhattan storefronts will all be either gyms, coffee shops or banks.

  9. Marty Oppenheim Says:

    I did visit the Fillmore east and Saw Miles Davis and Laura Nyro but I visited “The Saint” a lot more, It only lasted from 1980-88 but if you were there once, you have never forgotten it!

  10. Steve Says:

    Say Jimi Hendricks there on New Year’s Eve, 1970. Did his “Band of Gypsy” album if I recall. His Machine Gun riff on “Joe” was something I still recall.

    Great place! We often went to “Shaffer in the Park” later “Dr.Pepper in the Park” in the early 1970’s. $1.50 – $2.50 or sit on the rocks and get the music and shared company for free.

    They were “heady” times!

  11. Kevin Says:

    The Fillmore East was known for its light shows, especially the ‘blobbing’ multi-colored screens that played to the music, a new concept back then. Ironically, the Saint was also known for its amazing light shows, especially the ones projected on the domed ceiling. A legend of a location.

  12. Bob Says:

    Been there many times. Great music, jams, etc…Miss that time and my hair.

  13. james Says:

    After the venue closed as a movie house, and before Graham took over, it was called The Village Theatre. Saw several acts there.

  14. Gregg Simon Says:

    saw Black Sabbath there in Fall of 1970 Their first tour of USA. Saw Allman Brothers there twice Also J. Geils band also twice as opening act Leon Russell 1971 with Taj Mahall as opening act Really exciting 15 years old traveling by bus and subway from Long Island to see these great performers

  15. keith marron Says:

    is the auditorium intact??

  16. Charlie Boy Says:

    My italian mom, her 3 sisters and brother grew up across the street at 108 Second late 30s to early 50s until everyone married and moved to the suburbs. She would say second ave was the hotspot for jewish entertainment, food and a vibrant neighborhood. Papa was a wholesale fish seller at Fulton St and Mama made dresses.

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