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Strolling Back Into the Golden Age of Yiddish Theater

Jewish Rialto - Cinema Village EastKevin McLaughlin

This past weekend, the Lower East Side Preservation Initiative hosted a walking tour of the long-gone Jewish Rialto, formerly one of the preeminent theater districts outside of Broadway. The marquees touting lively music, comedy, and burlesque acts are no longer aglow, but during the three-hour stroll, theater historian Cezar Del Valle noted architectural remnants of the Yiddish theater era’s early-1900s heyday.

The district was ample, stretching from Second Avenue to Avenue B, and from Houston Street to 14th Street. Smaller stages nestled on side streets also hosted Jewish, Shakespearean, and original plays, as well as vaudeville, burlesque and musical shows.

Beginning at 143 Houston Street, Del Valle opened the tour with the story of the Houston Hippodrome, which was “a wooden ‘worm eaten building'” and a German evangelical church in the late 1800s until the General Slocum steamboat disaster in 1904. The Minksy family of real estate investors funded a reconstruction and in 1909 the space reopened, “presenting movies and vaudeville. Short plays were added circa 1912,” said Mr. Del Valle. It’s now the home of the Landmark Sunshine Cinema. Read more…

The Yiddish Walk of Fame

VillageEast Cinema AuditoriumThe Village East Cinema auditorium.

On the corner of 10th Street and Second Avenue, the neon blue of the glass Chase Bank building beams among the many signs and street lights. Yet this particular site casts a stage-light glow on the now-oxidized, brassy stars embedded in the sidewalk, embossed with Jewish names.

This is the Yiddish Walk of Fame.

The placement of these stars is a reminder of a former culinary institution (some might say shrine) that once occupied this coveted address, the Second Avenue Deli. From 1954 to 2006 the restaurant was an East Village staple, founded, owned and operated by the locally beloved Abe Lebewohl. The park across the street was re-named for Mr. Lebewohl after his murder in 1996.

Although the Second Avenue Deli had to vacate its historic setting (it has since relocated to 33rd Street and Lexington Avenue in Murray Hill) it was originally centered among a unique and ubiquitous string of Yiddish theaters along Second Avenue: what Josh Lebewohl — nephew of Abe and co-owner of the deli with his brother Jeremy — calls, “The Jewish Broadway of its time.”
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