Archive for Theaters

Lost Washington: the Trans-Lux Theater

Posted in Art Deco, Downtown, Lost Washington, Theaters with tags , , , on July 9, 2009 by Kent

Trans-Lux theaterThe Trans-Lux was once located on the west side of 14th Street, NW, between New York Avenue and H Street. The Trans-Lux was designed by architect Thomas W. Lamb in 1936.  The theater opened on March 13, 1937.

One of Washington’s most elegant art deco buildings, the streamlined theater was designed to show exclusively the latest newsreels from all corners of the globe together with an assortment of shorts, comedies, and travelogs.

The theater had many features unique for its day in Washington — well-spaced seats, indirect lighting, rear screen projection, wall-to-wall carpeting, sound-absorbent walls, and one of the first air-conditioning systems in a public building in the city.

Efforts were made to save the Trans-Lux but they proved futile. In the end, Washington preservationists lost as the parking-lot firm PMI razed it in 1975.Trans-Lux demolition 1Trans-Lux demolition 2

Lost Washington: the Knickerbocker Theater

Posted in Adams Morgan, Lost Washington, Theaters with tags , , , on July 7, 2009 by Kent

Knickerbocker Theater Oct. 1917The Knickerbocker Theater — once located at the southwest corner of Columbia Road and 18th Street, NW —  was designed by the young Washington architect, Reginald W. Geare, to seat 1,700 movie goers at a time. When it opened in October, 1917, it was the newest theater in Harry Crandall’s string of Washington theaters. This was by far Crandall’s largest theater at the time and was a good example of early-twentieth-century architecture inspired by neoclassicism.Knickerbocker Theater foyer

Knickerbocker Theater Interior Oct. 1917Unfortunately, the Knickerbocker Theater will always be linked in people’s minds to tragedy. On Friday, January 21, 1922, a heavy snowfall began in Washington and continued for thirty hours. It left the city paralyzed under 28 inches of snow in the worst storm the city had seen since 1889.

Despite these conditions, the theater opened as usual the following Saturday evening. As the movie was ending and the organist was playing at 9:10 p.m., a groaning and cracking sound began from above. Two minutes later, there was a mad rush to the exits as the roof crashed in under the weight of the snow.

Knickerbocker disaster 198 people had died and 136 were trapped under the rubble. The crowd of about 3,000 bystanders made it difficult for rescuers to assist the victims until a company of marines arrived to restore order at 11 p.m.

The subsequent investigation determined that the contractor had inserted the steel beams supprting the roof only 2 inches into the walls rather than the 8 inches Geare had specified, and Geare and Crandall were found innocent of any wrong doing.

Crandall rebuilt the Knickerbocker in 1923 and reopened it as the Ambassador. As the Ambassador, the building survived until it was razed in 1969.

Geare and Crandall didn’t fare so well. His career ruined by the disaster, Geare committed suicide in 1927. Similarly, Crandall ended up bankrupt and took his own life in 1937.

More photos of the disaster after the jump: Continue reading

Lost Washington: The Broadway Theater

Posted in Lost Washington, Shaw, Theaters with tags , , on June 25, 2009 by Kent

The Broadway Theater, once located at 1517 7th Street, NW, was built at a cost of $40,000 in 1921. It was built of brick and terra cotta with a Spanish tile roof. The building measured nearly 70 feet wide on 7th Street by 100 feet deep and was designed by the firm of Milburn, Heister & Co.Broadway Theatre

The Colony Theater

Posted in 16th Street Heights, Petworth, Theaters with tags , , , on June 11, 2009 by Kent

The last of Harry M. Crandall’s string of theaters to break grown, construction on the Colony Theater began the week of July 19, 1925. The site chosen was the southwest corner of Georgia Ave. and Farragut Street, NW.

Considering the location, it is interesting that the building was designed as a mixed use structure. In addition to the theater, the building contained six stores on Georgia avenue and 21 apartments of four and five rooms each.Colony Theater

The theater had a seating capacity of 1,400 on one floor. The entrance was on the corner of Georgia avenue and Farragut and was surmounted by a marquee. Exits from the auditorium opened onto Farragut street. Continue reading

Lost Washington: the Savoy Theater

Posted in Beaux Arts, Columbia Heights, Lost Washington, Theaters with tags , , on June 9, 2009 by Kent

Savoy facadeThe Savoy was originally built in the Colonial Revival style in 1913 near the intersection of 14th Street and Columbia Rd., NW. In 1916, the Savoy Theater company sold the building to Harry M. Crandall, Washington’s early movie mogul. The Savoy was his fourth theater, Crandall’s goal being to have a movie house in every Washington neighborhood.

After purchasing the Savoy, Crandall closed the theater for two months for extensive renovations. When he reopened in September of 1916, and after spending several thousand dollars more, the changes were reported as being so radical, with decorations so elaboration both inside and out, that patrons familiar with the old theater had a hard time believing the new Beaux Arts inspired structure was the same place. Continue reading

Lost Washington: The Metropolitan

Posted in Lost Washington, Penn Quarter, Theaters with tags , , , on June 4, 2009 by Kent

Metropolitan Theater ca. 1922The Website Cinema Treatures povides the following history of the Metropolitan Theater, which was located on the south side of the 900 block of F Street.

The Metropolitan was built in 1917. It was designed by architect Reginald Geare, who also designed the Lincoln and Knickerbocker Theatres.

Metropolitan Theater ca. 1921The 1400-seat Metropolitan had a three story Georgian Revival facade, with four sets of Doric pilasters below an ornately sculpted pediment. Between four sets of decorative friezes just below the pediment, the theater’s name was incised into the stone in bold lettering.

Around the late 20s, a large marquee replaced the more simple original, somewhat obscuring the arched window over the main entrance. Also, a 60-foot tall vertical sign was also added at this time, with its top support punched right into the sculpture on the pediment. Up until the early 40s, the Metropolitan included live stage entertainment, including a house orchestra, in addition to movies. The theater was also the site of the Washington premiere of “The Jazz Singer” in 1927, the first theater in the capital to show a “talking picture”. A year later, the Metropolitan was acquired by the Warner Brothers chain, which it remained into the 50s.

Metropolitan Theater 1950sThe theater received two massive remodels in 1954 and 1961 in an attempt to entice more movie goers with its attendance falling. Unfortunately, the Metropolitan closed a few years later, and was razed in 1968.

When Going to a Show Was an Experience

Posted in Culture and History with tags , on May 22, 2009 by Kent

With Memorial Day upon us, one thing that many folks will do is head to the movies. We all go for the show, but it used to be an experience, from the lights outside to the interior decorations. Here is the marquee for the Loew’s Theater taken in 1924. To see more of the building, you can go to this earlier post.Loew's Palace Marquee

Howard Theatre: A History

Posted in Culture and History, Development, Entertainment, Renovation and Restoration, Shaw, Theaters, Then and Now with tags , , on May 20, 2009 by Kent

Howard Theatre ca. 1910According to the Cinema Treasures site, the Howard Theater opened on August 22, 1910, in a primarily African-American area of Washington, near Howard University which lead to the theater’s name. It sat around 1,200 and was designed by architect J. Edward Storck and built for the National Amusement Company. During the mid-1920’s, it was sold to Abe Lichtman, a white theater owner of theaters that catered to African-Americans. As you can see from the vintage photograph above, it was billed as the “largest colored theater in the World.”

Its facade was a blend of several theater styles popular in the era, including Beaux-Arts, Neo Classical, and Italian Renaissance. At the top of the facade, overlooking T Street, was an over life-size statue of Apollo playing his lyre. The interior was even more extravagant, with a large balcony, eight boxes, a number of dressing rooms, and three entrances. Continue reading

Lost Washington: the Republic Theatre

Posted in Lost Washington, Shaw, Theaters with tags , , , on May 14, 2009 by Kent

Republic TheatreAccording to the Cinema Treasures site, the Republic Theatre opened on 30th May 1921. It was located a block west of the Lincoln Theatre, between 13th and 14th Streets, NW. It was located in the heart of the U Street African-American shopping district and was listed in the Film Daily Yearbooks as a “Negro” theatre.

Republic Theatre Robin Hood ca. 1948The theatre was designed by architect Phillip M. Julien and was a single screen venue. The exterior was given a slightly Spanish look with a Spanish tile roof topping the facade. Inside the auditorium, which originally seated 1,304, the seating was arranged in a stadium plan with no overhanging balcony, but there was a loge level half-way back. A Moller two Manual organ was installed in 1924.

The Republic was closed in 1976 and was later demolished to make way for the new Metro system.

Remains of the RepublicIf you walk by the site there is still a trace of the original building for the keen observer. An alley now cuts through the western most portion of the site, and the left wall of the alley is part of the former structure. You can still see a sliver of the building along the sidewalk.

(Historic images courtesy Smithsonian Institution)

Lost Washington: Crandall’s Joy Theater

Posted in Lost Washington, Penn Quarter, Theaters with tags , , on May 12, 2009 by Kent

Crandall's Joy TheaterAccording to Shorpy where this image has previously posted, the Joy opened in 1913 and was generally simply referred to as Crandall’s, after owner Harry M. Crandall. This image is ca. 1920.

The Joy, located on the southeast corner of 9th and E Streets, NW, was Crandall’s springboard to the top of the Washington movie ladder. He spent $25,000 to build the Joy in what had been a four-story building that housed a haberdashery. The floor was red concrete and sloped to the front so that it could be flooded every night after the theater closed. It was believed that a complete flooding would keep the theater absolutely sanitary.

Seating was about 450, the Joy was in operation only until 1924, when it was converted back into retail space.

The Joy was part of a string of theaters located on the 400 and 500 blocks of 9th Street which included Moore’s Garden Theatre, shown in the above photograph to the right of the Joy. You can read more about Moore’s in this earlier post.

The entire block has been razed and replaced by new structures over the years.


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