AFI Silver Theatre

8633 Colesville Road,
Silver Spring, MD 20910

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AFI Silver Theatre

Viewing: Photo | Street View

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 in 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 274 comments)

HowardBHaas on October 3, 2014 at 4:56 am

JodarMovieFan, so far AFI hasn’t booked it. DC has 70mm Imax but if you want to see it in regular 70mm, go to NYC to the Ziegfeld (where I saw The Master). I didn’t know the Senator no longer has 70mm.

Giles on October 3, 2014 at 6:42 am

The tweet/response I got from the Silver in regards to the booking of the 70mm print of “Interstellar” was that they are looking into it. I’m sure the too close to the Regal Majestic and their IMAX digital screen might be problematic.

JodarMovieFan on October 3, 2014 at 7:18 pm

Hmm. I haven’t been to the Ziegfeld in almost 8 yrs, but I’d love to see 70mm there. Unfortunately, I’m reading their curtain isn’t used. I wasn’t so enthused about The Master when it came out. Looking back, it was just a nicely filmed movie with first rate acting that

With regard to Regal, they’ve got their IMAX-lite, AFI has real 70mm, they (Regal) shouldn’t feel threatened or try to prevent the AFI from getting it.

sguttag on October 4, 2014 at 1:25 pm

Regarding Star Trek II at the MacArthur…I have a more lengthy response but since that is about the MacArthur, I decided to post it on THAT page instead…if interested, please go there.

HowardBHaas on October 6, 2014 at 12:36 pm

JodarMovieFan, I saw Gone Girl yesterday at the Ziegfeld. For several years, I haven’t seen the curtain used. The surround sound is incredible. It is a quicker trip from Philly than DC, but if you want to see Interstellar in regular 70mm, your other choice might be to wait to see it if is in a 70mm classic series or showing at the AFI. I doubt the Regal Majestic wants it next door at the same time.

JodarMovieFan on October 13, 2014 at 4:13 am

Howard, I think I’m going to see the film locally at one of the Smithsonian IMAX theaters. I’m looking forward to it. If the movie is still booked through the holidays, maybe I can convince my friend to drive up with me to the Ziegfeld.

Looking at the AFI’s calendar, it seems they are booking ‘West Side Story’ in 70mm, afterall. The last time I saw it here in 70mm was underwhelming. One of the posters on the Ziegfeld page claimed he heard snaps and whistling from all over the theater, (was it) before the credits, in its original 70mm release. I didn’t experience that though I did sit way in the back in the lounge seats.

Now, if they can find one of the newer 70mm prints for ‘Sound of Music,’ this would be a retrospective even the late Robert Wise would love to attend.

It also appears they’ve changed the version of Robert Wise’s ‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture’ as they are showing the director’s cut in some format called HDCam. What the heck is that? Sounds like video taken with a HD camera??? As far as I know, they never printed a film from the director’s cut even though Wise had supposedly wanted a re-release ala the ‘Star Wars’ special editions. Judging by the DVD version, its good they didn’t. I really hate the way they dumbed some of the original audio elements that, imho, took away some of the original dramatic edge. It plays okay for tv. Wouldn’t it be cool to have all 3 versions; original film (if there’s a good print), Blu-Ray (as originally planned) and the director’s cut. :)

It would be nice to have a Robert Wise pre-movie featurette before each Wise film. Or, at least have an AFI employee or intern introduce each one. With iMovie, youtube and the AFI archives, they could easily put something together… :)

Giles on October 15, 2014 at 9:39 pm

‘West Side Story’ – a 70mm print? – oh I’ll be there!

HDCam looks like a Betamax/VHS cassette – I’m not sure why it’s encoded, delivered, presented as such since I thought it can only feature a movie no longer than 124 minutes in length (‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture’ is 132 minutes)

Giles on October 15, 2014 at 9:40 pm

‘Sound of Music’ has been confirmed to be the 4K DCP

JodarMovieFan on October 16, 2014 at 4:36 am

HDCam being cassette?? Nooooo. That would be a travesty. I shudder at the thought of how that would look widescreen in either #2 or the Historic Auditorium.

I think the DE of TMP was made specifically with standard DVD in mind, which is what.. 480 dp? So when BluRay came out, they couldn’t release the DE of TMP because the supplemental effects would need to be rendered for the higher standard. The AFI schedule did indicate a lot of showings compared to other Wise films. I’m hoping they present it the way I remember it, complete with curtains, light dims and the overture. :)

sguttag on October 16, 2014 at 6:15 am

HDCAM is an HD format…1080i. There is also HDCAM-SR, which tops out at 1080p and 4:4:4 color space though it is almost always 4:2:2. It is nothing to worry about image or sound wise. That is the format most movies are formatted in all of the way up until release.

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