For a few years in the late '60s and early '70s, the Anderson functioned as both an avant-garde theater and a rock venue. A few notable shows:
Soft White Underbelly, precursors to Blue Oyster Cult, on February 2, 1968--a review is available here (scroll down near the bottom). Country Joe and the Fish and possibly the Jim Kwesin Jug Band were also on this bill, which was a benefit for Crawdaddy.
Moby Grape and Procol Harum, February 10 and 11, 1968. Check out the flyer for this show here.
Janis Joplin and Big Brother and the Holding Company had their New York debut there on February 17, 1968; B.B. King was also on the bill. A vintage Village Voice review of the show can be read here. Some Elliott Landy photos of the band (onstage and backstage hanging out with the Fugs' Ed Sanders) can be viewed here. And here's the flyer.
On March 6, 1968, the theater hosted a benefit concert for war resisters featuring Country Joe and the Fish and the Fugs. Elliott Landy took some pics of the Fugs there (scroll down a ways)--I'm not sure if they're from this show, but considering the anti-Vietnam slides projected behind them it seems likely.
UPDATE 1/25/2013: Ed Sanders discusses this show a bit in his '60s memoir Fug You (New York: Da Capo, 2011): "On March 6...the Fugs, Country Joe and the Fish, Bob Fass, Paul Krassner, and Light Show creators Joshua and Pablo did a benefit for the War Resisters League at the famous Anderson Theater, home to many a Yiddish production, at 66 Second Avenue. I wrote a new song for the concert, a country and western satire titled 'I Cried When I Came in Your Best Friend's Mouth.' I could hear gasps from the front rows of the Anderson Theater as we sailed through the tune. It was the only ditty in the history of the Fugs that any band member objected to, so I dropped it from the repertoire....Landy's photo of the Fugs on the Anderson Theater stage captured marvelously the grooviness of the stage ambience during those times."
The Yardbirds, with the Rich Kids and the Bagatelle, March 30, 1968--see the flyer here, and click here, here, and here for the saga behind the live recording of this show. UPDATE 1/25/2013: According to some Aerosmith fan sites and other sources, the Chain Reaction were also on this bill.
Traffic, New Riders of the Purple Sage, and the Grateful Dead, November 23, 1970.
San Francisco drag-hippie troupe the Cockettes made their New York debut at the Anderson in November, 1971. Their much-hyped revue didn't go over very well with the society types who'd turned out for opening night, but downtown's lower class of glitterati thought they were swell, enabling the show to run for three weeks. Required-viewing documentary The Cockettes includes some footage from the show, and further details can be gleaned from "Sweet" Pam Tent's Midnight at the Palace (New York: Alyson Books, 2004) and Joshua Gamson's The Fabulous Sylvester (New York: Henry Holt and Co., 2005). Click here for a picture of the flyer and a photo of the Anderson's facade and marquee from 1971.
Captain Beefheart, January 15, 1972--here's a vintage Crawdaddy article that mentions the show.
That's all I've been able to find thus far--but there may have been more rock & roll life left in the old gal yet.
When I read Roman Kozak's This Ain't No Disco: The Story of CBGB (Boston: Faber and Faber, 1988) back in 1988, I was intrigued to learn that Hilly Kristal had attempted to run a larger venue in an old Second Avenue theater from late '77 to early '78. This place was called, appropriately enough, CBGB THEATER--but while the book gave a fairly detailed account of the goings-on there, it neglected to mention precisely which old theater it was in, merely hinting that it was "located on Second Avenue only a few blocks from the club." Now by the late '80s, the Anderson had been vacant for years, and its marquee was stripped of all identifying signage. I had noticed the building, but back then I had no clue of its name or of its brief heyday as a sort of Fillmore East, Jr.--indeed, I only learned about the Anderson Theater's existence a couple years ago. Yet since this rotting hulk was the closest in proximity to CB's of all the old Second Avenue theaters, I figured it must have been the home of CBGB Theater. I have tried to confirm this, but to my frustration I've found no concrete evidence. The only reference I've found to suggest that I'm correct comes from an interview with Mayday's Steve Johnstad, in which he talks of rehearsing at the Anderson while renovations were underway for its reopening as the CBGB Theater. There's a detailed history of CBGB penned by Kristal himself on cbgb.com, but so far he's only gotten up to early '77. I wish I had more solid documentation to go by--but heck, I'm 99 and 44/100% sure about this, and that's enough to make me continue with confidence that the CBGB Theater did occupy the Anderson.
The CBGB Theater was just slightly ahead of its time, and circumstantially doomed--a good idea, poorly executed. By late 1977, the crowds at CBGB were getting out of hand. Sensing the growing popularity of the punk scene and hoping to maintain a major role in it, Kristal felt it was time to expand operations, and after a bit of searching he found a location at the nearby Anderson. Unfortunately, the building he bought was in a shabby state of repair. While decrepitude may have been part of the "charm" of the original club on the Bowery, it wouldn't fly in a near-2,000-capacity venue--certain standards of safety, modernization, and class had to be met in a place that large. But it cost a lot of money to bring the theater up to code, and though Kristal had some backing from the likes of Seymour Stein and a theatrical program company, he never quite managed to pull it off. Here are a few colorful anecdotes from This Ain't No Disco:
The CBGB Theater had a legal capacity of 1,734. It opened on a Tuesday night, December 27, 1977, with Talking Heads headlining, supported by the Shirts and the Tuff Darts. The next night it was the Dictators, the Dead Boys, and the Luna Band (formerly Orchestra Luna). Then Patti Smith headlined December 29, 30, and New Year's Eve. There were problems right from the beginning..."It was a great concept, but Hilly never really checked out the place," [says] Bill Shumaker. "It was in December, it was bitter cold, but the heating system never really worked. I never went down into the basement, but you could look down and it honestly looked like one of the rings in Dante's Inferno. And down there was the boiler. Everybody got serious colds. The sound guys were working with their gloves on because the place was never warm. Then, about six hours before opening, some old guy is up on the scaffolding. He started getting dizzy, and what he grabbed was this asbestos curtain release. The curtain weighed a ton, and down it came. Thank God it had a catch on it. It came down really fast, and then it stopped, so they could pull out the electric pianos and stuff, and then it came down again, leaving about three feet free from the lip of the stage. Nobody could do a sound check. And nobody had ever checked the mechanism for bringing it back up again. They had to get some kind of special gear. And the place didn't have enough power. The theater was set up for Yiddish theater. And that was about all the damned thing could take. So they had this noisy generator out on the street."....[Sound engineer] Norman Dunn: "It was an exercise in how many things could go wrong. In twenty-seven degree temperature you don't spray soundproofing under the balcony. It doesn't dry. At the first note it started falling down. The boiler room was under eleven feet of water because the water mains broke. One of the plumbers put in a weak pipe. The generator outside was running the electricity for everything and it was driving the neighbors crazy...There were threats, the police were there; but it would have cost $15,000 and Con Edison would have had to rip up the street to make things right. And this thing was opened on a shoestring. So every time the lights would go full blast, the sound would die to a whisper and then slowly the volume would come back up. There were other things. The chandelier hadn't been cleaned in eighteen years and the mixing board was right underneath it. Every bass note I was being rained on by eighteen years of soot and grime."
Joel Webber is even more graphic, though he does exaggerate for effect: "The place was disgusting. It made the CBGB club look like the Rainbow Room. We were talking about eighty years' worth of dirt. I mean there was popcorn left over from the last performance of the Yiddish theater in 1925...They did manage to clean up the entryway, and made it look like a subway station. They also had a little store where they sold punk paraphernalia. I bought my first skinny tie there."
This cool vintage article from a Cleveland newspaper reports on the earliest shows at the venue--noting with some annoyance that it "boasted $7.50 admissions, spotty central heating, and layers of dust and decrepitude dating back who knows how long (I don't even want to talk about the '"bar")." The Talking Heads, Tuff Darts, Luna, and the Shirts opened the place on December 27, 1977, followed by the Dead Boys and the Dictators the following night. The Patti Smith Group, Richard Hell and the Voidoids, the Erasers, and Mars did three-night stand culminating on New Year's Eve. The second night included a guest appearance by Bruce Springsteen, joining the PSG on "Because the Night." Even more notable was the FDNY's attempt to shut the place down shortly afterwards; Patti reportedly managed to sweet-talk the Marshals into letting the band finish their set, but the incident still made the front page of the NY Post. Here's another terrific vintage review on opening week from the NME.
More from This Ain't No Disco: After the Patti Smith dates the Theater closed. The place was briefly used as a rock and roll flea market and there was a show with the Jam the following March [March 31, 1978], when Mick Jagger showed up...There were obvious physical problems with the Theater, and neighbors on residential Second Avenue were not happy with it or its generator, but there were also other theories and explanations for [its] quick demise. "I think what happened was economic," says Robert Christgau. "I think basically Hilly got outbid when he tried to start that place...Ron Delsener just creamed him. Delsener said this upstart needs a lesson and I'm going to give it to him. And he started hiring all of Hilly's best bands, filled his now defunct hall [the Palladium] with them, and said, 'Fuck you, Hilly. This is my bailiwick."
Kristal nearly lost his shirt, but remained philosophical about the Theater's failure: It cost me about $150,000 or $160,000 loss for everying...But suppose I didn't go into the Theater? Maybe at that time it was a mistake to do it underfinanced, I might have been a little bit too soon, but if I had the money I might have done it. Some say it may have been better to start another CBGB in L.A. or London. People have suggested all those things, but you have to run a new enterprise and at least it was easy for me to run it from here. You have to have a certain perspective on how you want it run.
I'm not sure how active the building was in the '80s. I found a reference to an Anderson Theater Gallery, at which Vincent Gallo had an exhibition in 1983--but for all I know this could be a completely different location. By the time the building entered my '80s consciousness it appeared to be abandoned, and it was torn down sometime in the mid-to-late-'90s. Apartment buildings now occupy the space fronting 4th Street where the theater was. I'm not sure if the lobby portion/facade was preserved, but at any rate the 66 Second Avenue address is still in use. The site is currently home to a branch of Cartridge World, an ink cartridge refilling service.
UPDATE 12/19/2010: Just found this cool photo of the Anderson, via templeoftheblacksun. I also recently saw some tidbits of Anderson history on the cinematreasures.org page for the Academy of Music.
UPDATE 5/30/2011: Oooh, cinematreasures.org has a new look! Here's their page on the Anderson Theater, which gives more insight into its pre-rock and roll period. Apparently it was opened in 1926 as the Public Theatre. It mainly presented Yiddish productions until 1953, when it was renamed the Antillas and operated as a Spanish-language movie house. Then in 1957 it finally received the Anderson moniker, in honor of theatrical agent Phyllis Anderson. Also check out this 1977 Billboard article on the CBGB Theatre.
UPDATE 1/25/2013: For the heck of it I just did a search for some Billboard articles on the Anderson, and found a review for the Eric Burdon show (3/30/68 issue), a couple of mentions about the theater's availability (7/25/70 and 10/2/71 issues), and this ad for Pablo's Lights (3/2/68 issue).