Beginning in the 1920s, 19-25 St. Mark’s Place was the site of the Polish National Home. In the second-floor space called The Dom, Andy Warhol staged his Exploding Plastic Inevitable with the Velvet Underground in April 1966. Former William Morris talent agent Jerry Brandt acquired the lease and opened the Electric Circus early in the summer of 1967.
Brandt tamed the wilder experimental edges of the Exploding Plastic Inevitable for mass consumption. He hyped his non-alcoholic club as “the ultimate legal experience”—a dizzying immersive environment combining sound, lights, visual projections, and performance elements like a trapeze artist and a resident astrologer. Progressive Architecture described the club as having “a little of the look of a high-school gym, transformed beyond the wildest dreams of the prom committee.” Electric Circus headliners included The Seeds, the Chambers Brothers, Sly & the Family Stone, the Sun Ra Arkestra, Ike & Tina Turner, the Grateful Dead, and avant-garde composers Terry Riley and John Cage.
Crime, hard drug use, and political tension were rising in the East Village when, on March 22, 1970, a bomb exploded in the Electric Circus and injured fifteen people; the club closed for good in August 1971. The interior was demolished by 2003 and remodeled into commercial space for Chinese and Mexican restaurants and, briefly, a CBGB retail store.
Designed by Henry J. Hardenburgh and completed in 1884, the Dakota apartment building combined elements of German Gothic, French Renaissance, and English Victorian architecture in its distinctive construction. The Dakota has been home to many people in the creative arts including actress Lauren Bacall and classical composer/conductor Leonard Bernstein; and filmmaker Albert Maysles, co-director of the 1970 Rolling Stones documentary Gimme Shelter. Roberta Flack, Sting, Bono, and Paul Simon have all lived at the Dakota, but in 1980 Billy Joel was turned down by the co-op board in his efforts to purchase an apartment. The Dakota, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972, is referenced in songs by Nas (“Thief’s Theme’), Tim Curry (“I Do the Rock”), and Hole (“2 Years in the Dakota”).
In 1973, John Lennon and Yoko Ono moved into a large apartment in the Dakota; their son Sean was born there two years later. On the night of December 8, 1980, the couple was walking into the building’s 72nd Street entrance when Lennon was shot four times by Mark David Chapman. The former Beatle was rushed to Roosevelt Hospital where he was pronounced dead at 11:07 p.m. Yoko Ono still resides in the Dakota.
A 3,500-seat movie and vaudeville theater opened in 1927, the Academy of Music hosted early U.S. appearances by the Rolling Stones and the Dave Clark 5. In 1971, promoter Howard Stein began producing concerts at the aging movie house including Roxy Music, Black Sabbath, and Lou Reed (whose December 21, 1973 show was released as Rock ‘N’ Roll Animal). Two of Stein’s most memorable New Year’s Eve shows were headlined by The Band in 1971 (released as Rock of Ages); and by Blue Öyster Cult in 1973, supported by the Stooges and KISS.
In 1976, the theater’s name was changed to The Palladium but it remained an important rock venue for the next nine years. Frank Zappa’s Halloween shows became a fall tradition, and the Clash made their New York debut at the Palladium in February 1979. In 1985, Studio 54 founder Steve Rubell transformed the theater into the city’s leading disco featuring top DJs like Junior Vasequez as well as sporadic live shows by dance-oriented acts like James Brown and Was (Not Was). The Palladium closed in August 1997 following the sale of the building to New York University; it was subsequently demolished for the construction of a residence hall, also called Palladium.
Erected in 1914, Irving Plaza was both a vaudeville theater and a meeting place for labor unions and political groups. The Polish Army Veterans Association of America purchased the building in 1948 and named it “Dom Weterana” or “Home of the Veteran.” The success of independently produced shows like “New Wave Vaudeville” in 1978 led brothers Miles and Ian Copeland to mount shows with Iggy Pop, the Police, the Cramps, and Siouxsie & the Banshees, all in 1979. During the Eighties, Chris Williamson’s company Rock Hotel produced many hardcore punk and metal gigs at the 1,000-capacity venue.
The increasingly rundown four-story building was revived in 1990 when new lease¬holder Andrew Rasiej brought in a long-running musical, Song of Singapore. In 1991, Rasiej and soon-to-be-partner Bill Brusca began promoting concerts at Irving including appearances by the Dave Matthews Band, U2, and Eric Clapton. In 1997, Irving Plaza Concerts Inc. was sold to veteran New York promoter Ron Delsener. In 2007, Rasiej sold the business once again, this time to Live Nation, and the venue was renamed “The Fillmore New York at Irving Plaza.” Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, and Prince all have played Irving Plaza; so have Marilyn Manson, Nine Inch Nails, White Stripes, Wu-Tang Clan, Jewel, Sheryl Crow, the Cure, and Oasis.
The St. Nicholas Rink opened in 1896 as a members-only skating club. In 1906, it became the St. Nicholas Arena and opened up to professional boxing: Jack Johnson, Rocky Graziano, and Cassius Clay a/k/a Muhammad Ali all fought there. On January 14-15, 1955, the pioneering disc jockey Alan Freed hosted his first New York rock & roll shows at the St. Nicholas Arena. The concerts, both of which sold out the 6,000-capacity venue in advance at $2.00 per ticket, featured an all-Black roster of performers including Fats Domino, Clyde McPatter & the Drifters, Ruth Brown, the Moonglows, the Clovers, the Harptones, Charles Brown, and Big Joe Turner.
Based on his previous three years’ experience of promoting such events, Free wasn’t surprised by the SRO crowds. But as John A. Jackson wrote in his 1991 biography Big Beat Heat: Alan Freed and the Early Years of Rock & Roll, “what made the deejay’s St. Nicholas dance a milestone in the acceptance of rock & roll was the racial composition of the audience, which was estimated to have been half white—the first such documented ratio.” Alan Freed soon moved his rock & roll revues to other stages; the St. Nicholas Arena was demolished in the 1980s for construction of new offices for the ABC television network.