AFI Silver Theatre

8633 Colesville Road,
Silver Spring, MD 20910

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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 366 comments)

HowardBHaas on August 31, 2018 at 5:27 am

I’ve noticed just about everything here seems to be shown these days in digital, with the rare exceptions of the 70mm screenings. That’s disappointing!

PeterApruzzese on August 31, 2018 at 6:39 am

The new “unrestored” 70mm prints are from an IP made in 1999 and are not good at all – baked-in dirt, negative tears, faded color, scratches, etc. The new 4K DCP (and the IMAX derivative) is from a new cleaned-up scan of the original film elements; it is stunning and is the current definitive version of 2001 for large screens.

JodarMovieFan on August 31, 2018 at 5:28 pm

Howard, so true.

Peter, so this Nolan supervised ‘new’ 70mm print taken from the 65mm original negative, to use a Trumpism…was an ‘alternative fact?’:) GRRR.

Giles had mentioned the IMAX version was at the Chantilly Smithsonian the previous week. I was thinking about attending that to compare but didn’t have the time to check it out. I hope it makes the rounds again to check out (the IMAX version).

Giles on August 31, 2018 at 9:20 pm

‘2001’ – the IMAX DCP is now over at the Lockheed intown Air & Space IMAX screen

rl_83 on October 9, 2018 at 8:47 am

“ 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! ”

Maybe it has something to do with getting rid of their projectionists, or so I read back a few pages. Perhaps the studios won’t let them run prints anymore and they are going to subject their viewers to a diet of digital-only going forward.

JodarMovieFan on October 11, 2018 at 8:25 am

I’ve been saying the same thing for the last few years. I don’t think they’ve gotten rid of all their projectionists. I thought they had one for those rare 70mm shows. I remember one of the last bookings they only played 70mm on the weekends, thinking they ran digital or some automated showing on the weekdays when attendance is lower.

JodarMovieFan on November 19, 2018 at 9:39 pm

Vertigo and Rosemary Baby bookings for their respective anniversaries. But no Superman? It turns 40 next month! Vertigo deserves the restored 70mm DTS version, not the 4K. Whats the point?

markp on November 20, 2018 at 3:24 am

Most likely the point is money. I see it all the time at the one venue where I am a projectionist. Cost $250.00 to ship a 35MM print. Cost $4.95 to get a digital copy. And Im sure to ship 70MM must cost a fortune. Plus anybody can start can digital. You need people who know what they are doing to run 70MM.

JodarMovieFan on November 20, 2018 at 11:43 am

I hear you, Mark. When they had 2001 in the summer, I’d like to think they did well. The last day was sold out as I noted above. They booked again in the fall. If they build and advertise it well, I’m sure people will come (like me). I’ve read the one 70mm Superman print in circulation is pink now. I’d like to experience the title sequence in its full screen 6 track glory at least one time. :)

moviebuff82 on November 20, 2018 at 12:20 pm

if you want the full experience at home, get the 4k bluray. From what i heard, both the bluray and the 4k bluray have the sound mix sourced from 70mm six track elements. The 2001 special edition DVD’s sound mix was remixed for the release.

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