AFI Silver Theatre

8633 Colesville Road,
Silver Spring, MD 20910

Unfavorite 20 people favorited this theater


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 362 comments)

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 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 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).

JodarMovieFan on August 30, 2018 at 9:18 pm

Hooray for me. I caught the last showing of 2001 this evening. This time I bought tickets online to avoid the mess from last time. Turnout was surprisingly decent for a weeknight showing. I guestimate about 200 spread out the Grand Theater.

The theater advertises fresh made Whole Food sandwiches and other items. Unfortunately, they were all sold out. This is ridiculous for a 7:30 pm show. And they stopped selling my favorite stuffed pretzels. And I ain’t paying no $10 for a Costco sized dog that Costco sells for $1.50. Instead, I paid $5 for one oversized cookie and a bag of super crunchy chips. Its funny in that the guy next to me also had chips and as anyone who has seen the film knows its mostly quiet. You can hear audience movement, coughs and whatnot. So he and I were careful to quietly chew our extra crunchy chips, stop when the soundtrack was dead silent and resume chewing when it got loud. :)

Excellent showmanship. They discontinued the slide show and closed the curtain promptly at 7:30pm while the overture or entrance music began. There were some film detracting artifacts such as a sudden drop out as if the film had been trimmed at the beginning of the Dawn of Man scenes. Spotting and lines in certain places led me to believe the film has been shown quite a bit and probably mishandled. Intermission started at 9pm and the show resumed about 15 minutes later. Curtain closed. Audience clapped at the end. After the credits, while many still sat in their seats, curtain closed. ^5s.

Thinking about the ‘experience,’ I have to say it was less than I hoped. While its always great to see a classic on the BIG screen, with a decent audience, there were some other detractions. The color seemed less vibrant from what I thought was a first generation print. For example, the close ups of Dave Bowman. The guy has big BIG BLUE eyes. We’re not talking exaggerated digital blue like Chris Pine in the IMAX-lite Star Trek reboots here. They looked more light blue. My memory of the virgin print from the Uptown viewing from 1990 was more engaging..this is aside from the superior w-i-d-e screen at the theater. BUT..what I did notice this time (for the first time probably) were the red blood veins in Bowman’s eyes.

Another color detraction were the ship monitor readouts as Hal kills the scientists in stasis. The colors looked faded and not properly contrast and sharp. Maybe I’m wrong but I had thought the readouts filled the entire screen not boxed. The sound effect had a less than vibrant piercing beep beep..beep beep. Or, maybe my hearing has, um..lossed some sensitivity after years of THX/Dolby Digital/DTS abuse. :)

On the positive side, in one of the moon shots, there appeared more ‘texture’ than what I remember from before. The space suits by the Discovery looked more blood orange then orange than I recall. Since this print was supposedly made from the original negative would I be correct to assume this was the original intent?

I didn’t spend much time looking at the exhibits, but I did take a minute or two to marvel at the decorations and interior designs and how well things seem to have held up since its reopening some 15 years or so ago.

If Spartacus were shown here in 70mm for the Kubrick retrospective, I would have driven back for it. But for DCP, not so much interest. Might as well see it at home.

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.

You must login before making a comment.

New Comment

Subscribe Want to be emailed when a new comment is posted about this theater?
Just login to your account and subscribe to this theater