AFI Silver Theatre
8633 Colesville Road,
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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 Gensler Architects at the Silver began 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.
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