Georgetown Theater Buildings Survive

Photo by Constantine Hannaher.

Jonathan O’Connell of the Washington Post ran a fantastic feature yesterday on the history of theaters in DC, with a map showing where historic theaters were and existing theaters are. Definitely check it out. What struck GM when reading it is that all the buildings that once held movie theaters in Georgetown are to a large extent intact from their movie days. Of course, none of the historic theaters still are theaters, but it’s still a good excuse to tally them up!

Above you see a photo of the Key Theater. Of the historic theaters, it was on the young side. It was opened in 1969 and closed in 1997. Nowadays it (along with the former Roy Rogers next door) is occupied by Restoration Hardware.

Photo by Joe.

Here is the Biograph. It was even younger than the Key Theater. It was built in 1976 in a former car dealership and lasted until 1996. Like the Georgetown Theater discussed below, in its later years it mixed art house with adult fare, but was unable to stave off closure. Like many former theaters in DC, it now houses a CVS.

Photo by Tony.

Of course, we all know that the Georgetown theater building, gutted and decrepit as it may be, is still around. The facade as we now know it, however, is thankfully not long for this world. Architect Robert Bell has a contract to buy the building and plans to restore the neon sign and rip off the ugly formstone (and maybe send it Baltimore where they can’t get enough of it).

Bell only intends to restore the facade to its state immediately before the formstone was applied. That is some simple stucco style, but unfortunately GM couldn’t locate a picture of what that looked like. Bell confirmed that he had no plans to restore the facade of the Dumbarton Theater, which was what became the Georgetown in the 1950s. It was opened in 1913, shortly before this photo was taken:

Photo by Joe.

The neon sign itself with be red and the frame of the sign with be painted back to its original black color. GM predicts it will displace the old Riggs bank dome as the iconic Georgetown image once it’s finally repaired.

Photo by Bill Helms.

This obviously isn’t a theater, but the Tommy Hilfiger stands at the site of the former Lido Theater. The theater was open from 1909 to 1948. GM unfortunately could not find any picture of the original theater. The facade was changed significantly for Tommy Hilfiger, here’s what it looked like in the 1990s (on the far left):

GM’s not certain, but chances are that this isn’t really the original building. It just looks way more mid-century than turn of the century. The theater shut in 1948, and that building looks awfully 1950s-ish, so GM suspects that’s when the current structure was built. So maybe this is one that should be considered “lost”.

Photo by NCinDC.

This is also obviously not a photo of a theater, but before this building held Nike or Barnes and Noble, it held the Cerebus 1-2-3 theater. Like many of the large and similar looking buildings on 14th St., this property was originally built as a car dealership. The theater occupied the space from 1970 to 1993.

Photo by Kiev Dinamo.

Last, but not least, on O’Connell’s list is the Foundry Theater. The photo above shows it as it is today, but it hasn’t really changed much since the theater closed in 2002. It was the youngest theater on this list, having been opened in 1984. For all intents and purposes, it was replaced by the Georgetown AMC theater, which opened the same year.

So at one point in the late 1970s, there were four different movie theaters open in Georgetown. Now there’s just one (two if you count Letelier Theater) but we’ve got almost all the old shells. In the age of Netflix and on-demand movies, maybe we should be happy we’ve even got that.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Georgetown Theater Buildings Survive

  1. The Foundry was the go-to for GU students who didn’t want to hoof it to Union Station or Courthouse. All the movies were second-run or indie/foreign, and at $2 per ticket, a great deal. It was an entirely weird space, though, as the bottom of an office building it never felt like movie theatre was the original intent, and the auditoriums ranged in seating capacity from about 12-50 people.

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