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Three Landmarks in the East Village

Walking through the East Village means walking through history. The neighborhood features 30 individual landmarks, one of the highest concentrations in the city, that offer a unique view of our architectural and cultural heritage. Some of those buildings were landmarked in the early days of the Landmarks Preservation Commission in the 1960s, others gained the status as recently as 2014. Fortunately, Village Preservation offers a tour of these sites in our East Village Building Blocks website to guide you through this local history. Here, we take a look at three of those impressive landmarks.

Village East Cinema, 181-189 Second Avenue

What we know today as the Village East Cinema at the corner of Second Avenue and East 12th Street was built in 1925-26 as the 1,265-seat theatrical home for the Yiddish Art Theater company. Designed by the prolific theater architect Harrison G. Wiseman, the Moorish Revival–style theater was constructed in 1925–26 for a Jewish community leader and Brooklyn lawyer named Louis Jaffe. The theater offered elaborate productions under the direction of well-known Yiddish actor Maurice Schwartz, such as 1928’s The Tenth Commandment, which featured dances choreographed by Michel Fokine and sets by Tony Award–winner Boris Aronson. The company only stayed in this location for four years, but the theater remained a Yiddish playhouse from its opening through 1946 and again for revival productions in the 1970s and ’80s. The building, noted the Landmarks Preservation Commission in its designation report, is “one of the tangible reminders of the heyday of Yiddish theater in New York City in the twentieth century, particularly along the ‘Yiddish Rialto’ of lower Second Avenue,” when this type of entertainment was an integral part of the cultural heritage of the Jewish Lower East Side. 

Since then the theater has gone by a number of names, including the Phoenix and the Eden. Two legendary Broadway plays got their start in this spot: Oh Calcutta! in 1969, and Grease in 1972, both of which eventually traveled to Broadway for even greater success. At one point many years later, part of the theater was converted into apartments, one of which was home to Jackie Curtis, an essential performer in Andy Warhol’s films. In 1991, the theater was restored and the site became the Village East. Both the exterior and interior were landmarked in 1993.

9 East 7th Street/53-61 Cooper Square

This New York City landmark building, constructed in 1867 and designated a landmark in 1969, is an impressive marble work of the Italianate and French Second Empire style that’s still a major presence on the corner of Third Avenue and East Seventh Street. Originally built for the Metropolitan Savings Bank by architect Carl Pfeiffer, the structure is considered one of the earliest examples of fireproof construction in the city; the superintendent of buildings at the time of its construction said that “it is one of the handsomest and most thoroughly constructed buildings in the city, and a perfect model in its precaution against fire.”

The four-and-a-half story facade is constructed entirely of elaborately articulated marble, with decorative band courses at each floor, extensive rustication and quoinwork, ornamental entablatures and braces, and ceremonial Corinthian columns and pediments framing the entry. The building’s final floor is in a distinctive and delicately articulated Mansard roof supported by a decorative marble cornice, creating a sophisticated Second Empire profile on the streetscape. In 1937, the building was sold to the First Ukrainian Assembly of God, and has seen continuous ecclesiastical use since.

Former Children’s Aid Society Building, 295 East 8th Street

This building was constructed for the Children’s Aid Society as the Tompkins Square Lodging House for Boys and Industrial School, and was designed by Calvert Vaux and George K. Radford. The society used the building to house and educate “destitute” children, most of whom worked in the newspaper and bootblack trades. The Society was founded by Charles Loring Brace in 1853 and endowed by Mrs. Robert L. Stuart, who commissioned Vaux and Radford to design twelve Children’s Aid Society buildings between 1879 and 1892. This was the third. In 1910 the society ceased housing children but continued to use the building for instruction. In 1925 the Children’s Aid Society sold the building to a Jewish day school, The East Side Hebrew Institute, Talmud Torah Darch Moam, which remained in the building until 1975; three years later, it was converted into apartments. 

The building at 295 East 8th Street was designed in a Victorian Gothic style and is considered the finest surviving example of architect Calvert Vaux’s work for the Children’s Aid Society. (Another work of his for the organization on this tour is located at 307 East 12th Street.) This building features rust-colored brick with matching terra cotta ornament, as well as a varied roofline with dormers, chimneys, and a corner tower. It was designated a New York City Landmark in 2000.

Take the full tour of the East Village’s landmarks here.

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