AFI Silver Theatre

8633 Colesville Road,
Silver Spring, MD 20910

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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 297 comments)

JodarMovieFan on February 7, 2015 at 3:03 pm

Out of first run release boredom, I was perusing the AFI Silver’s film calendar and have discovered they are planning to book not 1, not 2, but 3 different versions of Ridley Scott’s ‘Blade Runner.’ The original ‘82 release, '91 director’s cut (I presume this was just sans the Ford voice over,’ and final (restoration and final Scott) cut and DP release of ‘07. It would be even worth more of a view if either the first two were 70mm. I suspect the '82 one is pinkish by now unless its the underground private copy or studio vault copy. The '91 cut I remember seeing at the Uptown was 35mm. The '07 final cut has Joanna Cassidy filming her character’s Zora’s death scene almost 25 years after original shooting! Even still, the movie has excellent visuals (65mm) that should have won Oscar over E.T., imho.

Unfortunately, hyperlinks are dead. I suppose info and/or final booking is fluid as of this writing.

HowardBHaas on February 7, 2015 at 3:18 pm

I saw Blade Runner in 1998 at the Uptown as part of Warner Bros 75th Anniv. 35mm, I believe the ‘91 directors cut. The movie had not impressed me on TV but it was awesome on the big screen.

Giles on March 6, 2015 at 8:04 pm

regarding the ‘Blade Runner’ screenings according to the Environmental Film Festival:

1982 Domestic Cut (116 min, Blu-ray) 1991 Director’s Cut (117 min, 35mm) 2007 The Final Cut (118 min, 2K DCP)

rivest266 on June 21, 2015 at 9:34 am

September 15th, 1938 grand opening ad in photo section.

JodarMovieFan on July 6, 2015 at 8:31 pm

It seems the AFI is having a final screening of the great 1980s films. Not sure what that means. Does it mean that the 90s will be the decade they consider classic now?

Even more disappointing is not one 70mm print of anything. in70mm has posted fairly recent screenings of 70mm prints of Ghostbusters, Temple of Doom, Die Hard, Dark Crystal, Aliens and Tron.

Rivest, you’ve done a great job posting opening ads/announcements of various theaters! Thank you. I have one of the MacArthur remodel that I intend to email CT for posting soon.

Giles on July 6, 2015 at 9:05 pm

I’d love to see 70mm prints of ‘Dark Crystal’ and ‘Aliens’! Interestingly I’m very keen on seeing the DCP of ‘Dark Crystal’ since the screening last year at the Angelika Mosaic (which was projected bluray) didn’t look or sound all that good.

I saw ‘Wreck it Ralph’ last week as part of it’s 3D festival – it looked great and it was the first time I heard the 7.1 surround sound mix [thumbs up!]

JodarMovieFan on November 9, 2015 at 11:29 pm

I take it no one went to the recent showing of ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ with Q&A and special guest star Keir Dullea. I saw the announcement of the special screening event on the website a few months ago and almost bought tickets. Unfortunately, I had to go out of town during the showing/visit.

YouTube has some interesting recent chats with he and co-star Gary Lockwood. Lockwood had mentioned he attended the premiere here at DC’s Uptown back in ‘68 and an encounter with a stoner who had seen the movie.

If someone was at the recent event and would like to post something, please do. :)

JodarMovieFan on November 25, 2015 at 3:28 pm

Seems like they’ve booked the Hateful 8 in 70mm DTS. It should be interesting to see a newer film in this format. But a western? A space/fantasy epic with cool visual fx would be my choice. How immersive can you get with sunrise/sunset shots, snow, dust and more dust..maybe some pore shot from one of the actors during a close up shot. :)

On the other hand, the AFI’s kind of smallish 40 ft screen may not do this film justice. Something of this size would benefit from being shown at the Uptown.

I’m curious how modern audience reaction will be with intermission and proper curtain closures and entrance music. If done right and consistently so, it should be good. :) We’ll see after week 3 into its release.

HowardBHaas on November 25, 2015 at 3:38 pm

I did see in year 2001 the 2001 movie in 70mm properly presented at Uptown as stated above & 2 years ago at Seattle Cinerama

AFI Silver website has The Hateful Eight in December- which means 70mm Ultra Panavision- same super wide aspect ratio that Khartoum was presented in a few years at AFI Silver

JodarMovieFan on November 26, 2015 at 1:33 pm

Howard, I agree with you on the Uptown. Those are my fondest memories of 2001. I have yet to see it at the Seattle Cinerama and hopefully, will catch it there someday the next time they have a 70mm festival. Given the $ the owner has put in that venue, it has to be one jewel of a showplace.

Regarding The Hateful Eight, I should have read up more on the story. It seems it takes place in winter and not a desert Western. I’m not going to read much more as I want to keep an open mind and enjoy the ‘roadshow presentation’ we are to get. Can’t say I’ve ever experienced one of those in my lifetime, up until now. I hope they have programs for sale of the movie. Now, those I remember from the 80s :)

Perhaps, when Steve reads our posts, he can shed more details on the technical aspects and other plans for this special event.

I wonder if they’ll have an actual 70mm trailer.

P r e s e n t e d in:

< 7 0 mm Datastat Sound >

Yeah, yeah, my poor attempt at a widescreen trailer.

This would be a good time for the AFI to put together a featurette on 70mm. They had a simple one before.

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