STORIES AND MEMORIES
If you have a story or memory about the Fillmore East that you'd like to contribute please email it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Some of my most fond memories of the Fillmore are from next door at Ratner's - where all the deals were made. When Bill Graham was to be honored with a named street, there were two naming conventions allowed by the city of New York: Bill Graham Way, or Bill Graham Place. My Aunt, Barbara Skydel, successfully lobbied for a variance: it was named "Bill Graham's Way," because that was the only way things got done.
In the mid-1990s, I had a railroad apartment at 217 East 5th Street, between 2nd Avenue & Bowery - the rear windows faced 6th Street. Very early on one cold autumn morning in 1994, I heard the relentless beat of one single, loudly pounding hammer. I went to the window to see what was happening, and there was an image I will never forget. Outlined by the stark, early morning fall sun, there was a solitary figure on a rooftop; he was lifting a large sledgehammer over his head, and bringing it down heavy and hard, time and time again. As my eyes focused, I realized where he was standing, where he was hammering: he was beginning to demolish the roof of the Fillmore. I immediately called my mom, and then my aunt, both of whom had taken me to see dozens of shows there, all when I was still a pre-teen. I was in tears. “They're knocking down my favorite childhood place,” was all I could spit out, between heaving sobs. I will never forget that day. Thankfully, I can quickly counter-balance the sorrow of that moment with the uncounted hours of sheer joy that beautiful place gave me.
(PS: that 4th floor walk-up railroad apartment, with the only warmth coming via through-wall gas heaters from the early 20th century—recently sold for over two million dollars. A 4th floor walk-up. Oh yes.)
Thank you for this fascinating page. The sound was clear, and remarkably even all through the house. I was a pre-teen, and had the run of the place, so I would float around all night, taking in the perspectives from balcony to backstage.
For me, the Fillmore's sound was second only to the Capitol Theater, in Passaic NJ. Through some mysterious confluence of circumstance, it was acoustically perfect. A big rectangular box that sloped upward, with carpeted walls. Go figure.
Thank you for bringing me back there. Great work.
Great Job Keith! That was quite a building, and you have captured the different transformations thru time, now we get to see it here. When I went in the building in the early 90’s it was a mess. Debris everywhere. The wood dance floor from the disco was there. The balcony had been cut back, as your 1980 pictures show the lower balcony being removed. The dance floor of the disco was about 12’ or so raised above the orchestra floor. There was a set of spiral stairs i climbed to get up to what was left of the upper balcony. Just the concrete risers were up there. No chairs . The stage was gone, the artwork outlining the arch was still there. The walls were black. What became very evident to me at that time was- it was no longer a theater. It was the remains of the disco. Kind of sad to see it in that state.
So anyway, thanks for your hard work !
Brownies & Milk on the stairway between sets!
I lived in the neighborhood of the old Village Theater which became the Fillmore East (at 14th and First, to be exact), and my friends and I would attend shows very regularly. If it was an act at the Village Theater that we only marginally wanted to see, we would routinely sneak in to the Village Theater using the 6th street fire escape, climbing up the very safe wire-medal stairs and usually finding a door leading to the walk-up hall for the balcony (that people would leave ajar). It worked about 75% of the time.
The first time we tried to do this after Bill Graham took over, our usual ajar door was closed and locked, and on the door scrawled in two foot chalk letters was "BILL GRAHAM IS A BUSINESSMAN."
The theater was originally the Loew's Commodore movie theater, where my older brother and I would go for Saturday afternoon movies.
New Paltz, NY
I was fortunate to be at the right age and the right place when the Fillmore East opened. As you probably know, the Fillmore had been one of the Yiddish theaters on Second Ave before it’s incarnation as a rock venue. It was called the Village Theater and a block or two south there was another former Yiddish theater called the Anderson that was offering rock concerts. I saw concerts at both venues including the ones in the attached posters.
I remember standing in line for one of the early shows and someone handing out free copies of a new rock magazine called Rolling Stone. I was thrilled that a magazine that focused on rock music in an intelligent way was now available. I’ve attached a photo of the cover of that edition. It was the first that I’d seen that John Lennon had cut his hair (a big deal at that time).
Another recollection is walking down Second Ave with a friend and finding a ticket for the Fugs that night at the Fillmore. My friend and I pooled our money to buy a second ticket (I think it was $2.50) to see that show, and were pleasantly surprised with how good the Fugs were.
I still love sharing the stories of the shows with my friends (now 70ish) in the Village that we saw then at theses theaters as well as the Café Au Go Go, the Village Gate, The Night Owl and more. Keep up the good work.
Having been one of the three MD'S that Bill hired to take care of bad trips in-house (rather than calling 911 with the inevitable disruptions), being at almost all shows from Oct '69 to closing June'71, your skillful re-creations, photos, drawings and videos really brought back so many wonderful memories.
I wonder if you knew that the old projection booth was converted into what we affectionately called The Bummer Palace". Perhaps you can somehow add this to your archive. Many a bad-trip ended peacefully there, with a little help from Valium, calm and quiet voices, the soft couches, carpets and drape covered walls.
Having just relocated, my cherished (signed) final concert week poster is still in wraps.
Pleas let me know if you would like a photo of it.
Arthur Lebowitz, MD