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 323 comments)

JodarMovieFan
JodarMovieFan on September 1, 2016 at 6:29 am

Thats a nice shade of red, Howard. Nice picture ^5.

What was the color of the old curtain? It wasn’t that bright whatever it was.

HowardBHaas
HowardBHaas on September 1, 2016 at 12:56 pm

JodarMovieFan, my photo of old curtain is the profile photo on this page. Many colors like the auditorium, no doubt inspired by the auditorium colors. Not as photogenic as the red curtain.

sguttag
sguttag on September 1, 2016 at 1:02 pm

The previous curtain was just some of the wall fabric. There were numerous problems with it when it opened since it has to turn 90 degrees and stack. The heavier fabric would stress the system as it made the turn.

The new curtain should last longer, providing the track system/carriers are maintained.

HowardBHaas
HowardBHaas on September 1, 2016 at 1:17 pm

Thanks! what month was the new curtain installed? I will mention it at the Intro above.

HowardBHaas
HowardBHaas on September 4, 2016 at 2:06 pm

Very much enjoyed very good 35mm prints of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and 1969 Goodbye, Mr. Chips, both with mono sound, Chips with intermission, Friday, in aud 1, with use of red curtain, which arrived about May 2016.

moviebuff82
moviebuff82 on September 4, 2016 at 6:03 pm

are there recliners at this venue?

JodarMovieFan
JodarMovieFan on September 4, 2016 at 11:33 pm

Movie, no recliners like AMC. Maybe one day? The back of the original auditorium has very comfortable wide seats and space for your cups and a food item.

I enjoy the rear seating in the original, but lose that sound envelopment unless I’m sitting closer even though its a THX cert auditorium. I’m thinking that many shows just aren’t played loud enough for my taste. I can’t remember the last time they played the THX trailer, probably in the 00s and the Life sound trailer. Then again, I haven’t visited this year, yet, maybe they’ve got the newest space one. :)

JodarMovieFan
JodarMovieFan on September 12, 2016 at 2:55 am

Ah hah! Someone must’ve been listening. They have Star Trek: TOS Movie screenings this week at the AFI, but mostly in 35mm and DCP. The Motion Picture is Blu-Ray and is the Director’s Edition. Sadly, no 70mm for anything. The Blu-Ray presentation was underwhelming the first go around even though it was in the Historic Auditorium. III maybe worth a viewing in 35mm. I can’t believe I’m saying that after all the years of complaining about scratched and mishandled 35mm film prints at the local megaplex. Maybe its a studio vault print. Then again, why not the 70mm, if its a vault print. :P Decisions, decisions. To boldly go, or not.

HowardBHaas
HowardBHaas on February 22, 2017 at 10:51 pm

Looking at the website today, it seems none of the classic movies list the format- 35mm or 70mm, DCP or lesser!

HowardBHaas
HowardBHaas on February 23, 2017 at 10:31 pm

Sadly, I found out why the website doesn’t list any classic films in film. The theater is NOT showing any 35mm or 70mm film. The theater is not paying film projectionist to show real film. This would be tragic, as the AFI has always prided itself on its classic film program. DCPs & lesser are not the same.

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