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 345 comments)

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).

Giles
Giles on May 7, 2018 at 10:23 am

AFI Silver just announced the 70mm engagement of ‘2001’ will be from July 5th to the 12th. Sounds like Fox has also culled new 70mm prints and 4K DCP’s of “The Sound of Music” for later this year (fingers crossed) – I’ve never seen or heard this in 70mm and would love to hear the original 6-track mix, as I am not a fan of the 7.1 remix done for the bluray.

moviebuff82
moviebuff82 on May 7, 2018 at 12:04 pm

i saw an ad for sound of music on youtube.

HowardBHaas
HowardBHaas on May 7, 2018 at 12:16 pm

The new 70mm print of The Sound of Music starts a 2 week run May 18 at the British Film Institute on the southbank of London. I don’t know of any US engagements yet. I saw the movie in 70mm in a classic series at the DC Uptown in 1991 and a glorious new print in 2013 at Seattle Cinerama. So yes, audiences will be in for a treat with a new print.

JodarMovieFan
JodarMovieFan on May 14, 2018 at 7:18 pm

2001 once again at the AFI. I assume its the NEW print. Or, can it be assumed they struck more then ONE? Will the experience be better than the ones previously had here? I guess we’ll find out soon.

Its been years since we had a 70mm festival locally. I’m jealous of the UK and Krno festivals they have every year. Time to have one here again. What do you all say? :)

HowardBHaas
HowardBHaas on May 14, 2018 at 7:33 pm

JodarMovieFan, Yes, new 2001 print here. I’m not sure what’s “Kmo” but US cities continue to have 70mm festivals. Google Chicago Music Box 70mm festival for their awesome 2017 festival. Or Sommerville (outside Boston). Or Hollywood Theatre Portland OR. Or, travel to the Museum of the Moving Images in Queens later this year (likely August) for 70mm: Cleopatra, The Sound of Music, West Side Story, and Hello, Dolly, and more!

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