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 250 comments)

Cumulo
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
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
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
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
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.

thebrat
thebrat on May 17, 2014 at 7:55 pm

I initially came here today for ‘City Lights’, but due to unpredictable traffic I missed the show. So I decided to stay in Silver Spring for a while to exchange my ticket and got one for ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’, which I had already seen. It was a DCP showing in #3. There seemed to be some slight keystoning from left to right rather than bottom to top, the scope moments of the film really showed off the odd effect. This being a THX cinema, I thought that was a peculiar oversight.

On a side note, the THX trailer ‘Cavalcade’ preceded the film. I was disappointed by the Deep Note in this. I thought the rain effects, thunder and crashing were much more “wow” for me. But then the DLP trailer that preceded the previews had a much more assertive and immersing mix.

A thought: what if AFI Silver installed Dolby Atmos in the historic theater? Considering the echo chamber issues the auditorium is having recently, it will be completely hilarious but sad.

JodarMovieFan
JodarMovieFan on June 29, 2014 at 9:04 pm

AFI’s 80’s film retrospective line up looks good. They’ve got “Batman”, “Star Trek IV”, “Willow” and “Temple of Doom”, but not one in 70mm. I remember seeing/experiencing all of those in 70mm. The surround track during Doom’s Thuggee sacrifice sequence..the time warp surround in Trek IV..the siamese dragon fire coming at, through and behind you from Willow and James Horner’s playful, heroic score. Batman, I don’t remember anything grand, except for the loudness of the Batmobile in motion and the Prince track.

They’ve got “Lawrence of Arabia” in 70mm, once again. One would think they’d book 2001 again, too, but maybe the 4K version coming later may be worth waiting for.

If they can get them.. ‘The Untouchables’ in 70mm would be great, “Gandhi” is epic with its real crowd scenes of thousands. ‘Top Gun’ would be great, too, but they’ve got it in digital. Hopefully, the transfer is good and they play it up loud. The beginning sequence with the jets taking off, Giorgio Moroder’s score transitioning to Kenny Loggins' ‘Danger Zone’ was sooooo awesome.

HowardBHaas
HowardBHaas on July 12, 2014 at 4:21 pm

3rd annual 70mm festival now online. http://www.afi.com/silver/films/2014/p67/70mm_spectacular_part3.aspx Hamlet. The Agony and the Ecstasy. Ryan’s Daughter. Cheyenne Autumn. Last year, Lincoln Center showed 70mm Ryan’s Daughter & Cheyenne Autumn in Swedish with subtitles, but no word of that format here. Oklahoma in DCP. Around the World in 80 Days, shown in Bradford England in a pink version. Anyone know if there’s a good version of Around the World Days in 80 Days?

HowardBHaas
HowardBHaas on July 12, 2014 at 7:21 pm

I should have written that Ryans Daughter and Cheyenne Autumn were shown in English but with Swedish subtitles. Googling, I don’t see any other prints reveal themselves as being shown anywhere so I’m going to guess the AFI Silver simply didn’t bother to list it that way?

JodarMovieFan
JodarMovieFan on July 13, 2014 at 8:27 pm

Howard, looking at in70mm’s website, NY and Chicago had/have 70mm festivals with titles that AFI can’t seem to get at all. One would think with AFI’s hook into the film community, they’d be able to get them. On the other hand, the local AFI has had some interesting premiers and directors for film discussions recently.

The site seems to be getting better, the email notifications are workinf for me, for the first time in years.

On the other hand, I believe they’ve been pruning site comments as I have seen mine disappear. This majorly sucks. Now, some of my memories of certain films are gone forever.

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