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AFI Silver Theatre

8633 Colesville Road,
Silver Spring, MD 20910

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8-29-14

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Operated by the American Film Institute, the AFI Silver Theatre is a film house and education and cultural center. Arthouse films, classics, and film festivals are presented in the historic theatre that opened 1938 and in the two auditoriums that opened in 2003. The AFI Silver is near the Silver Spring stop of Metro’s Red line. Silver Spring is a suburb of Washington, D.C.

The Silver Theatre opened September 15, 1938, with 1,100 seats and “Four Daughters” starring John Garfield and Claude Rains. The Silver was built by a local movie theatre operator W.S. Wilcox, but quickly turned over to Warner Bros. The theatre was designed by fame theatre architect John Eberson, one of his later classics. The historic building has a nautical theme including its mast like vertical sign and imitation portholes. When seen from above, the building mimics the lines of a ship. Eberson designed it to give moviegoers the feeling they are entering a cruise ship. The movie screen was designed to appear as if it were floating in front of the auditorium.

In 1984, objecting to the preservation of the theatre, its owners demolished some of the facade including the vertical neon town and tile mosaics. As demolition crews punched holes in the brick facade in August 1984, frantic Silver Spring residents rushed to the theatre to plead that demolition be halted. A ‘stop work’ order from Montgomery County saved the theatre from demolition at that time. The infamous, deliberate vandalism of the theatre by its owners became a rallying call to those who cherished it. K-B Theatres closed the Silver Theatre in 1985. Boarded up, its fate was uncertain. The Silver Theatre was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.

Richard Striner, a founder and former president of the Art Deco Society of Washington led a 19 year campaign to save the theatre. In 1998, Montgomery County began negotiations with the American Film Institute to reopen the theatre. The AFI were previously based at Washington D.C.’s Kennedy Center since 1975. Renovations by Washington DC based architectural firm Gensler & Associates began at the Silver Theatre in 2001. The five year construction project cost twenty million dollars and was totally funded by Montgomery County. County executive Douglas M. Duncan led the charge to fund the theatre’s rehabilitation. The AFI Silver is the flagship (pun intended) of a one million public & private rejuvenation of the downtown Silver Spring.

The historic Silver Theatre was ‘rehabilitated’ rather than replicated, because it isn’t an exact replica as it was. The original blueprints were discovered, and reviewed, along with vintage photographs. When built, the theatre had 60 colors in the interior. The reincarnation has 40 colors including the blues, yellows, reds and deep browns typical of 1930’s Art Moderne. Peacocks and shells can be seen on the wall decor. A new larger screen was placed in front of the original smaller screen. The original carpet was replicated.

The rehabilitation project features 32,000 square feet of new construction housing two new stadium theatres, a film-based retail kiosk, office and meeting space, as well as reception and exhibit areas.

The AFI Silver reopened April 4, 2003 with a gala including a screening of the restored classic “The Oxbow Incident” and actor/director Clint Eastwood receiving the AFI Silver Legacy Award. With photographs of its facade and auditoriums, the AFI Silver Theatre is depicted in the 2004 book ‘Cinema Treasures, A New Look at Classic Movie Theaters’.

As of 2007, historic Auditorium 1 has 400 seats in its raked auditorium, an electric organ to accompany silent films, projection equipment that includes 70mm projectors, and a very large movie screen that is 41 feet wide and 18 feet tall. Auditorium 2 has 200 seats, stadium seated, and a very large movie screen that is 37' x 19'. Auditorium 3 has 75 seats, stadium seating, and a 27' x 14' screen. All auditoriums have digital surround sound, are THX certified, and have curtains to open and close before the movie.

Concessions that can be enjoyed in the cafe or auditoriums include beer and wine, in addition to food and other drinks.

Contributed by Ray Barry, Howard B. Haas

Recent comments (view all 355 comments)

JodarMovieFan
JodarMovieFan on June 8, 2018 at 4:13 pm

Howard, its K-r-n-o Krno in the Czech Republic. They have 70mm festivals, although thats way too far for me to go.

I just looked at the AFI site and discovered that 2001 co-star Keir Dullea will be there on the 7/5th 7:30 showing for Q&A. Cost is $20. I missed the last one he did with Gary Lockwood. Its too bad Doug Trumbull could have made it here, too, instead of the Smithsonian showing a few months back.

Giles
Giles on June 8, 2018 at 8:05 pm

the recent Smithsonian screening at the Lockheed IMAX screen was a DCP and not actual “film”

moviebuff82
moviebuff82 on June 9, 2018 at 6:11 am

Which is crap compared to real film.

JodarMovieFan
JodarMovieFan on July 12, 2018 at 10:00 pm

I tried to catch the last showing of new print of 2001 this evening. After fighting rush hour traffic to get to the theater, I was surprised to see a line going to the end of Panera Bread! Still had 10 minutes to show time and then they announced the breakdown of their credit card system. Had no cash. I tried, along with my fellow patrons in line to book tickets online. Not knowing if that system was working, I gave up, since the site was so slow. I doubt the showing was sold out but I’m sure the crowd was a decently sized one.

In my disappointment, I walked around the block and decided to check out what was showing at the Regal theater… :)

Giles
Giles on July 13, 2018 at 1:11 pm

that’s too bad you missed out on the last screening Jodar, I saw this last Friday with a 14 year old family member, he really dug the whole Frank/Dave/HAL sequence of the movie; ‘The Dawn of Man’ sequence he kind of nodded out. As usual for this type of presentation, great use of the curtains and a twenty minute intermission. Of the prior 70mm presentations I’ve seen ‘2001’ here at the AFI Silver, this wasn’t the ‘best’ but regardless, it’s a treat and necessity to see this in 70mm and the Silver delivered.

HowardBHaas
HowardBHaas on July 13, 2018 at 1:16 pm

Giles, what was less about this 2001 screening than priors? I’ve seen it in 70mm at Uptown in year 2001, and Seattle Cinerama in 2013, both awesome screenings.

Giles
Giles on July 13, 2018 at 1:42 pm

There were a couple of instances of very minor print damage. Prior prints I saw had the blackness of space shots look ultra deep and inky. The quick overhead shots of the shuttle zipping over the moon’s landscape had a very 3D-esque layer effect, that wasn’t apparent in this newer version. On the plus side, this time around, I was really trying to take note of the five front channel (6-track) mix and it was very exemplary.

JodarMovieFan
JodarMovieFan on August 9, 2018 at 10:41 am

Looking at the AFI Silver’s page, they’ve got 2001 booked for only ONE day, Fri 8/24, with just two showings. I figured they would try to get it back especially with the current Kubrick film retrospectives.

I’m wondering why this year they hardly had any 70mm anything. I know we’re not in Hollywood and have easy access to the film archives and all that but when I see Portland and some of these other places having more 70mm, I’m jealous. This isn’t right. This is the AFI!

HowardBHaas
HowardBHaas on August 10, 2018 at 11:58 am

JodarMovieFan, current 70mm film festival at Museum of Moving Image in NYC. In 2013, I saw the digital Hello, Dolly! as part of the 70mm film festival at AFI Silver, but the actual 70mm print will be in Queens this weekend. The following weekend, 70mm print of Cleopatra, another 70mm print that I don’t think was shown at AFI Silver. And, other films in 70mm.

Giles
Giles on August 11, 2018 at 8:45 am

JodarMovieFan, the AFI must have updated their website, but the return of ‘2001’ is a week long engagement. not one show. The 4K restoration in DCP form will be over at the Lockheed Martin IMAX screen at Air & Space (and at Udvar Hazy).

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