AFI Silver Theatre

8633 Colesville Road,
Silver Spring, MD 20910

Unfavorite 20 people favorited this theater

8-29-14

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 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 340 comments)

JodarMovieFan
JodarMovieFan on September 5, 2017 at 4:52 pm

I finally caught ‘Dunkirk’ in 70mm. Looking at the showtimes, it appears they run it in digital during the week, automated probably and run it 70mm with a projectionist on the weekends or evening shows?

Customer Service is lacking. No greet either at the box office, upon entering or at the concession stand. I was going to order something at the concessions and was looking at the menu for my favorite stuffed pretzels and just got stares. I just left. The movie was about to start anyway.

This time I sat closer to the screen instead of my usual comfy spot in the back to get that full immersion experience. Bad idea. The flight shots made me a little dizzy. I was not feeling so good after the show. They had the curtain open throughout. Bad. At least I thought they’d close it before the previews.

Speaking of previews, they showed the upcoming Blade Runner 2049 and Justice League. It looked like film as there were the usual spots and artifacts inherent to film projection. Being the best house, I was hoping the film would play on the louder side with the appropriate BOOMs and shakes but I didn’t feel anything. In fact, my experience at BowTie’s refurbished Annapolis Mall BTX 4K #1 was a LOT better.

As far as the film experience, it was like the other Silver 70mm presentations. All the sound seemed up front. I was hoping for some directional sound at least from the fighter planes whizzing and the bullets firing. Even the end credits walking back, no sound from the other speakers. For those who have seen it this way, correct me if I’m wrong. Maybe the low attendance resulted in them not flipping all the sound switches.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I could’ve sworn when I saw the Master, there was a slide presentation or little video about the differences between 35mm and 70mm film and the experience. Looking at the audience in attendance, the younger people (younger than me anyway) would probably not know, much less appreciate the difference.

For an archival organization like AFI, you’d think they’d be able to use one of those 70mm trailers presentation trailers. On the other hand, if you’ve got wide film directors like Tarantino and Nolan utilizing 65mm, no one younger then that group is going to know or appreciate it. May as well buy the movie and watch it on your iPhone/Pad. Why not make a new 70mm trailer with sound?

Looking at the total box office grosses, it seems Dunkirk is doing well. Perhaps, we’ll see more 70mm but if its all like this, I’d rather go see it in 4K Digital even if its IMAX-lite. I can’t believe I’m saying it.. ;)

Overall, I was a little underwhelmed with the Dunkirk experience at the AFI Silver. It wasn’t worth the drive for sure and the lack of customer service doesn’t help either. While I believe in the AFI and its mission on film preservation and all that, on the business end of showing films at this location its just not there.

Giles
Giles on November 20, 2017 at 11:13 am

Nolan’s soundmixing in general is a mixed bag. I saw Dunkirk at the Lockheed Martin IMAX screen; here and Tyson Corner in 70mm – and each were uniquely different. The IMAX-laser presentation audio wise made me ears want to bleed – way too loud, bass was deep, the treble in the gunshots made me want to jump a foot out of my chair, surround sound felt more pronounced. At AFI, the 70mm print audio playback seemed way more constrained, and the surround sound much more subdued – the print on the other hand looked the best. At AMC Tysons, the audio was boosted and as a result gave the aural illusion it had more dynamic range.

JodarMovieFan
JodarMovieFan on December 18, 2017 at 10:39 am

Phantom Thread is booked here in 70mm shortly. Looking at the you tube preview and setting, its somewhat interesting. I just hope it doesn’t turn out to be as unsatisfying as The Master.

It appears a new print of Lawrence is making the rounds. Perhaps, AFI will get it here later in ‘18. Its about time for it and 2001 to come back, once again. :) Maybe with luck, something 70mm new? I’m thinking Sleeping Beauty and Brainstorm.

HowardBHaas
HowardBHaas on January 13, 2018 at 6:30 pm

Saw Phantom Thread in 70mm today (35mm blowup), souvenir program included (for ticket price, no discounts, $18). Wonderful presentation of interesting movie. For those like JodarMovieFan who didn’t like The Master, you won’t like this movie. Good movie though.

JodarMovieFan
JodarMovieFan on January 13, 2018 at 9:43 pm

Howard, I want to see Phantom Thread this week, along with the Post. Did they use the curtain? If I do, I will keep an open mind. I read a post/review on in70mm that was glowing. I’m avoiding critic reviews until after I see it.

My sense is there is a projectionist for 70mm all the time? I vaguely remember when they played Dunkirk in 70mm on weekends and in DP during the week probably to save money on labor.

Post is playing here, too, but I think I’ll see it at Greenbelt just to support them. :)

HowardBHaas
HowardBHaas on January 14, 2018 at 4:07 am

JodarMovieFan, yes, curtain used as I’ve seen it usually including last month at European Film Festival. Get there when last showing is finishing. (There’s only a few minutes of trailers so you can calculate using the movie length time). Curtain closes. You can enjoy closed curtain for awhile, but long before new feature time, curtain opens for slides, trailers, etc. then the movie is played, then curtain closes again. The use of the curtain enhances the movie experience. Living in Philly, I’ve yet to visit Greenbelt but it is on my bucket list! So, yes, rather than see The Post in aud 2 here, sure, see it at the Greenbelt. Also, I should mention that souvenir programs for Phantom Thread are only as long as supplies last.

HowardBHaas
HowardBHaas on January 21, 2018 at 5:54 am

Phantom Thread is still in 70mm here. My photo on the marquee is included in this interesting article, http://www.in70mm.com/news/2017/phantom_thread/index.htm

Giles
Giles on January 21, 2018 at 8:14 pm

^ nice article Howard.

I saw ‘Phantom Thread’ here at the AFI Silver last Friday and they used the curtains only for the conclusion of the movie, usually they do it for both the beginning and the end.

Did the Greenbelt finally upgrade to 7.1 surround sound? I know that for here and the Avalon which is playing on the main screen, the 7.1 mix can and is played back as such.

HowardBHaas
HowardBHaas on January 22, 2018 at 3:37 am

Giles, thanks. As to curtain, did you arrive before the last screening stopped as I wrote above? As emails still mentioned free souvenir program while supplies last, you got one? Check the Old Greenbelt’s website “about” which says 5.1, albeit its 4k digital projector is more than the Avalon has (assuming they haven’t upgraded from 2k) & all of these wonderful historic theaters (AFI # 1, Avalon, Old Greenbelt) main screen is about same size: 40 feet wide, which is great. AFI Silver projectionist told me Phantom Thread soundtrack for the 70mm print is 6 track DTS.

Giles
Giles on January 22, 2018 at 7:48 pm

Howard, I actually went to the 1:40pm screening last Friday – and yes I got a souvenir programme – what a beaut!

Greenbelt is still 5.1 – phase 2 (which has yet to commence), might include the installation/upgrade to 7.1, time will tell.

I asked way back when the Avalon reopened what projector they had and they stated a 4K system was in the main auditorium – maybe they informed me incorrectly [EDIT: upon looking back at my Avalon Theater comment I mis-remembered, it’s a Christie projector that can be upgraded to playback in 4K, but from what I gather they’ve never done the system upgrade].

As to the 6-track soundtrack of ‘Phantom Thread’ it sounded very front heavy, with very little, subtle use of the surrounds and when it did, it was mostly for the music.

Personally I would love to hear a new movie from a director who remembers five stage channel mixed movies bring back that technical aspect – since I think it can be done on current processors (five front plus two surround channels).

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