Saturday, July 09, 2005

Still hangin' out on Second Avenue

ANDERSON THEATER--66 Second Avenue b/w 3rd and 4th Streets. It's been difficult to ascertain any historical data about the Anderson--when it was built, its original purpose, etc.--but most accounts state it was primarily a Yiddish theater, which makes complete sense given its location. The best I was able to come up with is this description from, but the "facts" are probably not 100% accurate: "Anderson Theatre - was located at 66 2nd Ave. in the lower east side of NYC - 5,000 seats [I believe it was more like 2,000] - theater entrance structure is still there with that same address but it is now a pharmacy business. The theater wrapped around a corner building and part of the theater was also on the south side of 4th Street. The 4th St. side of the theater is long gone replaced by some modern housing - began as Yiddish Playhouse circa late 1800s or early 1900s, then used as a music venue in the late 1960s." I've found a scant few references to Yiddish and other productions staged there in the past.

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, 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 page for the Academy of Music.

UPDATE 5/30/2011:  Oooh, 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).


Anonymous said...

We not only rehearsed - I also lived in the dressing rooms? Many stories! (Anderson Theater/CBGB's Theater)- Starving for art never made sense if it couldn't be done in style!!

Anonymous said...

re the Anderson Theater - this is probably unknown to history, but the Rolling Stones played their first U.S. concert there in 1965 to a half-filled house and they were roundly booed. Bill Wyman was even dodging tomatoes. I know because I was there.

Signed D.C. said...

Thanks for your memories...but are you sure the tomato tossing wasn't at the Academy of Music? This Stones site ( doesn't list anything at the Anderson.

Signed D.C. said...

And Zeus--by all means, I'd love to hear those stories if you've got 'em!

Anonymous said...

I think you're right DC - the Stones URL has a picture of the ticket, and it says Academy of Music, Nov 6, '65 back when you were just an idea.
Confused it with The Doors, who packed the Anderson a couple of years after that and gave a truly great show, and also a very political one.

Anonymous said...

i produced the concerts at cbgb's 2nd ave th, charley martin did the sound and cosmo did stage mgmt

i got the ticket and stalled the fire marshals at patti smith's 12/31 show.
need any other info. just ask
bob t.

Anonymous said...

wow - i just assumed that CBGB's theater was where STOMP is now which is amazing because i was one of the 1734 people at that new year's eve show. (i do remember that theater on 2nd and 4th being demo'd in maybe 93 or 94...i didn't realize that was the place.)

I went to that show with 2 guys who were friends of a friend.(This is amusing to me because one of those guys was(is)Thurston Moore. I wonder who else was in that audience..) After that we went to CBGB's for the Shirts and Orchestra Luna.

I had no idea the place had such a short life. We were pressed up to the stage and i took a lot of photos at that show and somewhere I have a chunk of lenny kaye's red lacquered guitar which he smashed to pieces at the end of the show.

After reading your blog i just had to walk down the street to have a look.

Does anybody remember where the aztec lounge used to be - we used to go there a lot too but i can't find it... 9th street??? last time i was there was probably 1988 - i don't know when it closed.

countrymouse said...

In 1971-73 I work as a musician for Universal Attractions backing artists like Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, the Coasters, etc. In January of 1972 we were contacted by our agent and asked if we wanted a gig with a few new promoters running shows at the Anderson theater. Funds were limited but we managed to come up with a weeks worth of shows for late February that included Dreams (with the Brecker Brothers)and Bo Diddley and John Lee Hooker on Wednesday,Feb. 16th. On Thursday and Friday, Feb. 17th & 18th we had John Lee, Bo and Elephants Memory (hello Stan wherever you are!). For those of you with long memories, this was the week that John and Yoko were guest hosts on the Mike Douglas show and appeared live with Elephants Memory backing Chuck Berry on national TV. Our last show on Saturday night was Elephants Memory, Bo Didley and Chuck Berry on stage together...what a jam! And yes, John and Yoko did show up (I believe it was Yoko's birthday, too) and we sat together inconspicuously in one of the theater boxes for the whole show. The Hell's Angels were there with us all week and we couldn't have pulled off the shows without them! There's much more to this tale; ask if care!

Signed D.C. said...

Thanks for your Anderson anecdotes...and I'd certainly love to hear more if you're willing to divulge!

Unknown said...

Country Mouse is right! I was the Harp player with Hooker for that show. Elephants Memory was there.

HippieChick said...

I think that the Doors concert to which Anonymous 11:33 refers was actually up the street at the Village Theater, which soon became better known as the Fillmore East. And the Doors played there too.

Anonymous said...

I was living on 10th St between B and C (my apartment was across the hall from Galahad's Pad) around those years. I saw many shows at The Anderson, The village Theater and The Fillmore. Don't ask me who I saw where though. Good times

Mattj said...

Was there a 'crawdaddy theater' on 2nd ave around 3rd st in late 60s early 80s. Or was crawdaddy one of the promotion companies who put together acts for the Anderson? If my memory serves me well, the kinks and the seeds and traffic played the same show. Tix were $6 bucks, as were the woodstock tix - guess that was all it cost to see 3 headline acts ( or maybe 2 with sky saxon thrown in for relief)!

Signed D.C. said...

Mattj, I'll have to look further into that. I've never seen a reference to a Crawdaddy Theater, but a production company does seem like a possibiilty...perhaps with a connection to the magazine of the same name? I'll investigate and ask around.

Nigel S. Clayton said...

CBGB's did indeed have shaows at the Anderson. I own 4 showbills from 1977 that state quite clearly...
CBGB's Second Avenue Theatre.
On the back side it reads...
Sire Records salutes CBGB's Second Avenue Theatre on it's grand opening.
Featured to appear at the theatre.
Talking Heads-December 27 with Tuff Darts.
Dead Boys-December 28 with The Dictators and special guest:The New Luna Band.
Richard Hell & The Voidoids-December 29/30/31 with Patti Smith.
These are the originals right on down to the beer stains and vintage adverts for Manic Panic, Village Comic Art Shop, Bleeker Bobs Record Shop and finally Trash Vaudville. Oddly enough on page 4 of the concert bill there is an ad for CBGB 315 Bowery advertising the following performers...
December 27-Reggae Week with The Heptones and New Breed
December 28th.-The Melodians & Morelations
December 29th.-Horace Andy & Jah Malla
December 30th. & 31st.-Special New Years Show.
I am undecided whether to sell them all or just 3 out of the 4.
If you think you or someone you know would like to buy one or all 3 contact me at 917-515-8663.

Anonymous said...

Hells Angels + Rock & Roll = Racism, Beatings and BullSh*t.
Disliked by the Rolling Stones at the end of one of the biggest concert blunders ever, Punched out by Marty Balin And told to get lost by the rest of the Jefferson Airplane they have NO PLACE in Rock and Roll History.

Anonymous said...

I saw my 1st rock concert at the Anderson, just a few weeks before the Fillmore East opened. The show was Pearls Before Swine, The Electric Flag (!) with Buddy Miles & Mike Bloomfield, and Country Joe & the Fish. Also there was a light show; can't remember who, but not Joshua. CJ & the F was probably the loudest thing I'd ever heard in my life up to that point. The Fillmore opened a few weeks later and for a brief period, just weeks, the 2 theaters competed, but the Anderson stopped doing rock shows soon afterward. --BillG

Anonymous said...

this may be the single greatest comment thread in the history of blogging. Hey - I was at the Anderson for buddy miles, pearlbefwine, CJF, too! unbelievable.

lesVegas said...

I was the singer with the Soft White Underbelly. do you want my long stories about the Anderson?

Anonymous said...

Saw the Jam at the Anderson Theater (from what I can tell from online info) on March 31 1978. They came on stage, black and white suits, threw on all the house lights and blew everyone away. Absolutely tremendous.

Bob Hopeless said...

Played there with Sic F*cks the night after the Jam.

Saw the Jam show and was back stage w/friend

by ourselves when lo and behold Mick Jagger and

Jerri Hall came by and watched with us. My friend

knew Peter Tosh and he and Mick were talking

in a corner for most of the show. I was alone with

Jerri-she asked me for a light-I said meekly blurted-

I don't smoke- and watched the Jam with her without another word. LOL

Amy said...

I was there for a concert the first week of 1978, I believe (though my memory could be faulty - maybe the last week of 1977?). It was bitter cold and the heat didn't work. It was an all night concert. I remember seeing the Talking Heads and some other big names (wish I had a program!). The fire marshal closed the place down sometime during the night, but first we had many hours of fabulous music. It was a concert to remember!

Anonymous said...

At the Pearls Before Swine, Buddy Miles, Bloomfield show, the light show was Lights by Pablo.
--Phil K

Anonymous said...

My older brother, George, took me to the first night of the Patti Smith Group at Anderson in '77. I was 15 and my life was forever changed. I don't remember being cold inside because Patti was so raw, so alive, so amazing. It was one of the best nights of my life.

Anonymous said...

My older brother, George, took me to the first night of the Patti Smith Group at CBGB Theatre in late '77.
I was 15 and I don't remember being cold because
Patti was so raw, so alive, so amazing. It was one of the best nights of my life.

festerdude said...

I was in the 3rd row at the WRKO concert in '67 (?) featuring Doors, Janis Ian, Richie Havens, Chambers Brothers and Blues Project. Great show, great scene. The NY fans did NOT dig Morrison, his poetry or his attitude. While Jim was emoting on "The End," much of the crowd was yelling, "it's the end for you, Morrison!" That said, in my opinion, they were terrific as was the whole bill. Blues Project was much loved in NYC and the Chambers Brothers got the crowd off with "Time." Richie and Janis were angelic and modest. At one point I turned around to see what the hippies were doing behind me with all the jingle-jangling going on. Girl w/ many bracelets was doing the hand-jive on her bf. Rock 'n roll, baby. I told my date (Maureen :) wherever you are) to keep "eyes front."

Jerry's Brokendown Palaces said...

Anonymous- Do you still have the Anderson Theater photos? I'd like to use one in my book, The Encyclopedia Of Jerry Garcia Music Venues.

Everynight Charley Crespo said...

Nice article, even though I came across it 1 years after it was written. I have lived in the Lower East Side since 1956. The Anderson Theater did indeed become the CBGB Theater, the only difference that the CBGB Theater had fewer seats for some reason. Neither venture had much success. Throughout my childhood, the Anderson Theater was more closed than open, with just a few occasional spurts of activity. I saw the Grateful Dead, Captain Beefheart and a few other shows there. The CBGB Theater similarly lasted a short time, and I think I saw most of the shows there. I do not remember ever seeing it open after that. Although the marquee is long gone, the brick work on the face of second floor of the building still looks like a theater.

Anonymous said...

John Lennon and Yoko Ono used to shop at "George and Tilly's," a little "organic" grocery store that was open a few days each week on East 6 Street, between Fourth and Third Avenues in NYC.
Known for its produce; highly-sought-after organic chickens (Shoppers had to place an order for chicken days in advance.); organic eggs (which also had to be ordered in advance), and home-baked pies, this was a place where everyone, from rock stars in limos to starving artists and just folks, shopped in the 1970s. Shoppers would line up outside the door on the appointed days, waiting their turn to shop for organics inside the unheated, dimly lit shop.
When Perdue tags were found on many of the chicken parts of the "organic" birds being sold George and Tilly's scam of being "organic" was revealed. George claimed that he had placed the tags on the birds as a joke. Incensed, several regular clients researched this — before the Internet, folks! — and determined that the whole "organic" claim was a fraud. (Rumor was it that someone had had a private investigator tail George and Tilly, but I cannot confirm that.) George was proved not the farmer as he had claimed to be. He purchased all his "organic" produce and chickens from a wholesale grocery outlet in New Jersey and drove to New York City where he marketed it as “organic” to us.
There was quite an uproar as many customers sick with AIDS and/or cancer had been purchasing "organic" food from George and Tilly. The fraudsters lost most of their business and closed the shop.

Mike Fornatale said...

One thing: you talk about apartments "now" occupying the space behind the building's 2nd Avenue facade. But those apartments were always there. Like it's neighbor two blocks away, the Fillmore East, the Anderson Theater actually occupied two separate buildings. The Second Avenue entrance (in both cases) contained the theater's lobby on the ground floor, and apartments above. The actual "theater space" was in a separate building behind that, with exit doors on the side street (E. 4th in the Anderson's case, and E. 6th in the FE's case.) This is why people are sometimes confused when they hear that the FE was torn down. They say you're mistaken because the building's still there. Well, the building that housed the lobby IS still there. (There's a bank in what was the lobby space.) The actual theater space is what was torn down, and an apartment complex built in its place, with the entrance and address on E. 6th.

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Mickey Zero said...

My buddies and I were at one of the CBGB Theater shows -- I'm pretty certain it was the Dead Boys night (those days are hazy). I remember being forced to stand out in the bitter cold for a couple hours before they finally let us in. Then it was just as cold inside. And then something went wrong in the middle of the set because all of a sudden the crowd started trashing the seats -- I have a vivid memory of tearing away the cushions from one of the seat, but it was so old it just crumpled into dust in my hand. I always believed they shut down the theater after that night, but I guess I'm wrong.