AFI Silver Theatre

8633 Colesville Road,
Silver Spring, MD 20910

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AFI Silver Theatre

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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 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 261 comments)

HowardBHaas on August 8, 2013 at 12:21 pm

I figured Hyde Park probably wouldn’t have exciting surround, but Anna Karenina sound was so exciting from behind the screen that I just knew I was missing out on a wonderful surround sound experience that I am sure was in the 35mm print but somehow messed up by projectionist.

HowardBHaas on August 10, 2013 at 6:10 pm

Enjoyed today a beautiful print (4k DCP) of restored Hello Dolly! at AFI Silver in auditorium 2 since aud 1 not yet DCP equipped. Curtain opened, slides shown, then movie began. Halfway thru intermission slide, music, I went to buy popcorn, returned in 2 minutes, and movie had begun already! That was not the right period of time for an intermission! After movie ended, curtain closed, and more music (as appropriate). The sound seemed to be behind screen, but was excellent. I asked beforehand, and was told it would be a 2.39 aspect ratio, which it seemed to approximate. Blu Ray online says 2.35. Since other 70mm films (Lawrence of Arabia, Cleopatra) were put into 2.20 ratio (same as 70mm) for DCP and Blu Ray & these films would’ve been shot with 2.20 lens (right?) why would Fox have cropped Hello Dolly! at top & bottom to place it on a 2.4 aspect ratio for DCP & Blu Ray? Regardless, it was a very enjoyable screening. The movie looked gorgeous on the big screen & sounded great. I had never seen it in a movie theater before today.

PeterApruzzese on August 10, 2013 at 8:11 pm

It should be 2.20. If I had to guess, the DCP was probably created with the 2.20 image windowboxed within a 2.39 frame to keep the same height, but not as much width, as a 2.39 show.

Giles on August 13, 2013 at 8:54 am

what a surprise yesterday afternoon to see ‘The Last Unicorn’ not only in DCP (on screen 2) but to get to meet author/screenwriter Peter S. Beagle in person. The presentation while advertised as a 35mm print turned out to be an actual DCP – the Park Circus logo was the immediate indication the literal second it displayed on screen. The colors looked fantastic, slight cel imperfections were retained and not scrubbed, DNR’d to death in typical Disney Home Video fashion (i.e, the current ‘The Sword and the Stone’ bluray is a primer on how the DNR transfer can destroy the original film look and create a flawed ‘video’ presentation). The 5.1 mix was equally impressive, notably in it’s wide dynamic range. It also came in great play when ever Schmendrick used his magical power, sound would swirl into the surrounds.

HowardBHaas on August 19, 2013 at 4:33 am

Anybody see this weekend DCP version of “Cleopatra” 1963 in aud 2? A few months ago, I saw it, was glorious. 4 hour version as after a week or two in NYC & LA, in 1963, it got chopped down by 40 minutes or more. To me, it looked beautiful, a hugely impressive film to look at & enjoy. No surround sound in the version projected that I saw.

Cumulo on August 29, 2013 at 5:16 am

My brother and I watched “Closed Circuit” yesterday afternoon in #3. Although advertised on the website as a DCP (and the trailers were digital), we were pleasantly surprised when the feature itself turned out to be a 35mm print.

thebrat on September 2, 2013 at 4:56 am

What better way to examine the Silver’s new DCP system than a screening of the 4K restoration of Lawrence of Arabia? I caught yesterday afternoon’s screening in screen #1. First of all the picture was rock steady. Steadier than the 70mm presentations of 2001 and The Master. The DCP is identical to the Blu-ray in that it used the same amazing master, but the DCP gained that resolution to create a grid-less picture. There certainly was less resolution than 70mm, but the digital restoration was just too marvelous.

A few complaints. The new DCP system is sketchy at the moment. There is slight keystoning towards the upper part of the image. The masking was first set to 2.35, but the picture was pillarboxed to 2.20 so the unused junk on the left and right sides was illuminated. Finally 90 minutes in, the side masking set to 2.20, and although if you look closely you can still see some of the black junk but it was reduced. Thank heavens. The douser was also open during the overture and entr'acte which contain a black screen while the douser should be closed during those moments. At least the curtains were used.

The sound was on the reverberating, wet side. Dialogue had an echo and was almost unintelligible. Thanks to the Art Deco stylized room that is screen #1, the modern screens 2 and 3 are acoustically superior to the technically superior screen 1.

Once the DCP system is at full speed, then the Silver will be totally versatile and even more amazing.

JodarMovieFan on September 29, 2013 at 9:44 pm

Having glanced at the October calendar, it appears they have booked a 70mm print of ‘Ghostbusters.’ As often as I have complained about proper surrounds..I remember seeing this at the Uptown in ‘84 when it opened and there is a really cool..scary scene when the Ghostbusters come upon a 'librarian’ who does not ‘know’ she is dead and tries to shush our heroes into silence. They cut to the jabbering heroes and in the next cut we see the librarian turn from an old marm to a skeletal ghost. The accompanying sound effect is part subwoofer and growl for like 2 seconds that is surround..and out our heroes go scrambling away in fright!

I’m going to make plans to see the movie and if they play the sound all up front like they have and this scene is ruined, I’m going to complain.

Giles on October 29, 2013 at 8:55 pm

saw the 1953 ‘3D’ movie “Inferno” tonight on the new 3D system in auditorium #1 – and it looked fantastic. The Dolby 3D system’s glasses fit perfectly over my own glasses, unlike the REAL-D glasses that don’t. The 3D was very impressive and there was enough light to convey the dimensionality – whoever created the DCP made it look like the movie was shot last week. On the downside the audio was very strident and even sitting close to the screen, some of it bordered on intelligable, for a THX screen – the audio is all over the place; movie to movie.

JodarMovieFan on February 3, 2014 at 8:02 am

The calendar shows they are booking 1984’s ‘Starman’ in 70mm in March. Of many of that year’s films, this wasn’t really a favorite. I saw it in 35mm at the now closed College Park theater and fell asleep during it. My sleeping during part of the movie had more to do with the fact I worked the night before and my friend kept begging me to drive him to catch a matinee. I remember the reviews of the movie being similar to ET but for grown ups. Let’s hope the presentation yields something more memorable than the other 70mm films shown here of late.

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