Circle Theatre

2105 Pennsylvania Avenue NW,
Washington, DC 20037

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indykelley on January 25, 2018 at 7:09 pm

A critical part of my film education. I was taking filmmaking courses in Workshop for Careers in the Arts (which became the seed of the Duke Ellington School for the Performing Arts), and the Circle Theater, which was a repertory film theater, showed Hollywood and foreign films for $1 until the jacked the price up to $2!!

Toadthecat on January 25, 2017 at 3:11 pm

I go back to the 40’s & 50’s. 21st. & Penn was a residential ares at that time. Row houses and brownstones on Pennsylvania Ave. Hundreds of kids on Saturday afternoon. Double feature. Always western. Tom Mix, Hopalong Cassidy, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry and many others. But first there was the newsreels and then cartoons. Then we had the serials. Always leaving you in suspence until the next week.We were always rooting for the good guys. Booing and hissing at the baddies. You always heard a lot of yucks if there was a kissing. Unless the hero was kissing his horse. Popcorn and candy wrappers all over the place. They did not allow soda in those days. Outside were all over the place. I don’t recall ever seeing a bike locked. When it was over and the movie let out, 21st. & Penn was closed and all of the kids come out like a bunch nuts. Whooping and hollering and acting like a bunch of nuts. No trouble, We had a wonderful Saturday afternoon, every week. All for the price 15 cents. Great memories. No homeless and no clock.

Hobartt on January 25, 2017 at 2:11 pm

Three memories. 1. Standing in the back pacing and smoking nervous as a cat watching Dylan’s Renaldo and Clara, a painfully intimate film…one of the very few showings of the uncut version before Bob pulled it.

  1. Being consumed in the fog of Anna Christie…literally losing the line of consciousness and aswirl in the mists of dream, film, and some timeless void apart from both…(true of the 30’s films shown there like Grand Hotel or Morocco). The Pedas Bros. owned rarely played and pristine prints, I believe, which made the retrospective showings feel like they were immediate a first run. The theater was a virtual time machine. The audiences were a mix of ‘70’s hipsters and people who had seen the films first run.

  2. The analog clock, blue lit, dimly visible and discreet, on the upper left of the screen, which taught me about editorial rhythm, film time as it relates to quotidian time and 24fps.


Betzee on July 2, 2016 at 1:20 pm

As a graduate student at GWU from 1984 to 1986, I spent a fair bit of time in the Circle Theatre. I can remember one evening screening in which a homeless man was sleeping in the back. When he woke up and began to mutter loudly part way through the film, members of the audience initially didn’t know what was going on. The Circle was a bit down on its heels, but still a beloved art house and repertory fixture of the Washington arts scene.

deeceevoice on November 17, 2015 at 10:50 pm

The Circle West End is the only Circle movie house remaining in D.C., but I don’t think it’s still owned by the Pedas Brothers.

deeceevoice on November 17, 2015 at 10:47 pm

The Circle Theatre was one of a stable of theaters (along with The Inner Circle and The Outer Circle) owned by the Pedas Brothers at 21st and Pennsylvania Ave., N.W. It specialized in “repertory cinema.” There was a regular collection of film classics that played there in steady rotation, and if you shelled out $10 for a book of ten tickets, you could catch a double feature for a dollar. And back then, popcorn didn’t cost you an arm and a leg.

Those were the days. :)

NoneSoPretty on January 13, 2015 at 1:43 pm

When Mary Pickford died in 1979, her portrait behind the popcorn stand was draped in black velvet bunting. Keep on dialing 331-7480, no need for 202 area code!

CharlieCoates on November 12, 2014 at 2:45 pm

I was a regular at the Circle from 1970-1972 while stationed at the Pentagon. Double features were the rule and the films shown always had some sort of relationship, usually by star or genre.

I vividly remember my first visit to the Circle in May of 1970. The double bill featured Bogart: Casablanca and The Big Sleep. The audience was dominated by college students and their enjoyment of and involvement in the films (particularly Casablanca) was palpable. Of the many days and nights I have spent at the movies, that ranks as one of the best.

jimlawrence on July 29, 2014 at 1:08 pm

“Book ticket!” was the cry from the lady who would sell me book after book of 10 tickets for $10. I still have one or two books. Of course, each ticket would admit you to two classic films.

Bob, the loveable old ticket taker took a shine to me and would only accept a ticket every other visit. I felt like I lived there – often attending several nights in a row, year after year. I would even walk miles uphill back up to Glover park after a particularly good film to savor it instead of taking the 30, 32, 36 or 38 bus up Pennsylvania and Wisconsin avenues.

I must take issue with the original poster – the seats were comfortable – and the poster who said the screen was small. It was large (several times larger than the Biograph’s screen)and one of the larger screens in town at that time. I remember the Uptown and Avalon being larger.

After seemingly hundreds of nights in that theater I don’t remember any homeless people. They certainly weren’t making their presence known to me.

I truly loved that beautiful old theater and was sad to see it go.

It was the foundation of my film education and the beginning of my love affairs with Kurosawa, Fellini, Cocteau, Welles, Bergman, Allen, Coppola, Capra, Hitchcock, Bertolucci, Ford, Kubrick, Chaplin, Scorsese, Huston, Altman, Wertmuller, and dozens more.

Does anyone remember Mr. Henry’s across the street on the same block? Many wonderful meals discussing film there before and after the show.

Giles on July 26, 2014 at 4:32 pm

still no separate listing for the Inner Circle theater. I was recalling/mentioning this on Facebook the other day. I remember seeing Monty Python’s ‘The Holy Grail’ and ‘Life of Brian’ at the Circle – classic! And over at the Inner Circle, ‘Liquid Sky’ and two ‘no one under 17’ movies ’Re-Animator' and ‘Demons’ – apparently they were really lax on not enforcing that restriction [insert smiley face]

ln569 on July 24, 2014 at 3:50 am

AS a student at GWU, I unwittingly attended a show on the last day of operation of The Circle. In November 1986, I saw an evening showing of Brazil because it was almost across the street from my dorm. The next day, I was at the bank located at Pennsylvania & 21st street applying for (and being denied) my first debit card when I looked out the window and I saw workers removing theater seats from the building, which was demolished and the rubble was left fenced in until March 1987 because they had discovered asbestos and it could not be properly removed. The liquor store did indeed remain until it closed.

mh1greene on October 29, 2009 at 2:50 pm

Great picture! Thanks. I had forgotten about the eatery next door…I wonder how many incarnations that had. And in the sixties there was a liquor store on the corner. Hey, what’s happened to all the liquor stores?

Really hurts to think that place is gone.

mh1greene on July 30, 2009 at 9:31 am

As a student at GW in the early seventies I’m pretty sure I spent more time at the Circle than I did in class…probably learned more too. Even now I look over at the abomination of a building that stands in its place and think about all those great film festivals (Bergman, Kurosawa, Trufeau, etc.)that I saw for a dollar. At their peak the Pedas owned many other Circle moviehouses in DC; the Inner Circle, the Outer Circle, Circle West End, etc. It was a great place to see a movie. How about the old DuPont, the Biograph, the Janus and the Cerberus? Wow, those were the days. Thank God the Uptown is still standing. When they junk that one, I’m going with it. – Mike Greene

CONELRAD1999 on June 5, 2009 at 10:44 am

I spent a major chunk of my youth in this theater. The nearby Biograph and AFI were more refined repertory houses, but the Circle has a certain rough charm about it. Maybe it was the large (and often vocal) homeless audience. Maybe it was the occasional out-of-sequence reel change by the projectionist. Maybe it was the fact that a double feature-sustaining Roy Rogers meal could always be snuck in with a minimum effort. Maybe it was the incredibly cheap tickets. Regardless, the Circle will always be missed by D.C. film fans who knew from the start that VHS was a poor substitute for a Circle Theater experience.

JohnTChance on March 20, 2009 at 4:24 pm

The Circle was a great resource for film lovers, with an eclectic programming schedule that mixed classics with cult. Before VCRs and cable TV, venues like this were the only way to catch great films that may have had a limited local release. Miss those days!

gunboy3 on October 3, 2008 at 10:55 am

With all due respect to rivjr, there was many a matinee that was sparsely attended. Remember “WR Mysteries of the Organism”? Who showed up for that one?
That aside, it was a wonderful, funky place to see several different double features a week. And boy did I
Remember the clock, with its glowing blue face over the exit?

Dutchman on July 30, 2007 at 9:33 am

Built in 1911, the Circle was the oldest movie theater in DC until it was demolished in the late 1980s.

rlvjr on December 31, 2006 at 6:46 pm

When the Circle was still a regular neighborhood theatre in 1956, I took Mary Louise here to see Rogers & Hammerstein’s Carrousel. We started a kiss at the 20th Century-Fox drumroll and kept it up till the picture ended. Glad it was a 2 hour movie rather than the usual 90 minutes. Quite possibly the most enjoyable movie I never saw.

estott on December 3, 2006 at 12:38 pm

This was quite an early theater- built sometime in the ‘teens. In it’s early days it used a gimmick in keeping with it’s location near a traffic circle- films were projected through a circular mask, the management advertising “Perfect Circle Projection”.

RobertR on November 1, 2005 at 5:15 pm

I don’t think the Inner Circle has been listed yet?

rlvjr on July 12, 2005 at 12:26 pm

The CIRCLE used to be a mildly successful neighborhood theatre until the Pedas Brothers took it over and wrote the book on REPRATORY CINEMA —– this was the best one in America. Brilliantly booking a diverse agenda of classics and foreign films, I never saw the CIRCLE any less than 80% filled —– even Mondays, even matinees. Here’s how; for example: I wanted to see the Italian classic BICYCLE THIEF but the only time I could get there was for the 9:45 on a rainsoaked Tuesday night. So that’s when I went. Yeah, it was full, like usual.
The PEDAS boys took profits from the CIRCLE and opened a whole chain —– for which Cineplex Odeon wildly overpaid to acquire. Two things killed the CIRCLE. (1) VHS videos made such theatres obsolete and (2) the CIRCLE was on prime real estate 4 blocks from the WHITE HOUSE. Torn down for a parking garage? I think not! There’s a 12 story office complex sitting where the CIRCLE’s one storey building used to be. One last thing: the CIRCLE employed a hard-to-look-at handicapped person in a high profile job. Nobody used to do that. I think nobody ever complained, either. God bless!

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on June 18, 2005 at 1:16 am

Does anyone remember a D.C. movie theatre that in the 1940s and later was called the “Little Cinema” or “Little Theatre”? I’ve seen references to it but could not find it on Cinema Treasures. It was an art house. I’d like to know the address and/or other names for this place.

Eric50 on July 17, 2004 at 5:35 pm

I remember going to the Circle and Inner Circle many times. They showed older movies but they were great. The Inner Circle had seats with high backs that would rock. They were so comfortable I remember falling asleep on more than one occasion. I really miss the grand old movie houses. They are mostly gone now, only the matchbox theatres at the malls are left. The young people today will never know what they missed.

Eric Royal

bonacker on July 7, 2004 at 7:47 pm

I went to AU (American University)during the 60’s.I used to play hooky a couple of afternoons a week and take the Wisconsin Ave. #30 bus down to the Circle.They always had a double feature and frequently showed Hitchcock films.The afternoon admission was 50 cents.The popcorn was 15 cents and the soda was 5 or 10 cents.Even by ‘62-'66 standards this was really cheap.I remember the candy concession lady.She was a dwarf,and she stood on a special platform that allowed her to serve people over the counter.There were never more than a handful of people in the theatre for those afternoon shows,but I don’t remember any homeless or sleepers or perverts.

Going to an afternoon movie on a “school day” was so out of the question back home that going to the Circle was quite thrilling.I loved that little movie house and the dwarf lady etc.I never went to a hooky time movie anywhere else.

William on November 20, 2003 at 4:31 pm

The Circle Theatre was located at 2105 Pennsylvania Ave. and it seated 670 people.