Ontario Theater

1700 Columbia Road NW,
Washington, DC 20009

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dickneeds111
dickneeds111 on March 6, 2014 at 4:05 pm

While in the Navy and also stationed at the Naval Photo Center in 1960-1962 and 1964-1966 and then again for only 2 weeks in around 1983 I visited the Ontario many times. Saw the 70mm Roadshow of Sound Of Musicthere. I did not work there but I did work P.T. nights at the Sears offices in Silver Springs and I also was one of the projectionists at The NAS Anacostia base theatre.

20015
20015 on October 24, 2013 at 1:40 pm

Demolition was completed this week 10/24/2013).

CaptDave2013
CaptDave2013 on May 21, 2013 at 10:15 pm

I was an usher at the Ontario (part time while on active duty in the Navy stationed at the Naval Photographic Center) and worked two films, “Becket” and “Mary Poppins”. The Premiere of “Poppins” was held here and I ushered that show, a fund raiser for Project Hope, and Miss Andrews and Producer Blake Edwards both attended. Julie was stone cold and Blake was more than distant. However, at that time she was having an unpublished affair with Edwards (they later married) and perhaps, her behavior was reserved. My recollection was that during the long run of these two movies, the Ontario WAS operating as a reserved seat theater on weekends. In those days (1964-65), the Ontario was a first-class operation and we ushers word red uniforms that made us look much like the famed Phillip Morris cigarette icon.

Tinseltoes
Tinseltoes on July 8, 2012 at 12:44 pm

Featured in this 1952 trade article: boxoffice

sconnell1
sconnell1 on June 20, 2011 at 7:59 pm

Hello Ontario Theater lovers

I made a mistake in my comment back in 2009. “Becket” and “Mary Poppins” were not shown at the Ontario on a reserve seat basis, even though they were shown that way in other theaters around the country.

JodarMovieFan
JodarMovieFan on May 30, 2011 at 6:18 pm

Upon closer examination of the picture and without being able to zoom at the marquee to determine the picture playing, I have to say that picture had to be taken in the late 70s. Maybe ‘76, '77..look at the Mustang and Monte Carlo..those designs take it back to the 70s. I see no 'newer’ models I can identify that would predate the other two.

I say this because one of my favorite 70s shows was Charlie’s Angels and in the opening one of the Angels is seen running from that era Mustang. The show ran in the mid-late 70s.

HowardBHaas
HowardBHaas on May 30, 2011 at 3:37 pm

1984 exterior photo, when still showing movies, found on flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/kinorama/4377226720/

Bloop
Bloop on March 29, 2011 at 8:39 pm

I was here once in 1982. My friends had an apartment down the block. This was a rough area in the 1980s! I hear it’s been gentrified. No surprise.

sconnell1
sconnell1 on December 9, 2009 at 8:08 pm

I think RichJ meant to say that the riots were in ‘68, not in '66, which rlvjr mentioned in his remarks on September 30, 2005.

buckguy
buckguy on December 9, 2009 at 7:38 pm

The riots were in ‘68, not '68. The former lobby area is now for lease. The CVS drug store that occupies part of the structure will soon move across the street next to Safeway.

JodarMovieFan
JodarMovieFan on September 30, 2009 at 8:47 am

Either late ‘85 or early '86, shortly after “The Color Purple” finished its run.

Thechrismo111
Thechrismo111 on September 30, 2009 at 5:08 am

What year did the Ontario finaly close (after it’s 1985 re-opening)?
Has anything happened with the restoration idea?

HowardBHaas
HowardBHaas on August 9, 2009 at 7:15 pm

Stephen, I’m enjoying your comments as they wonderfully provide much of the history of this important DC moviehouse.

sconnell1
sconnell1 on August 9, 2009 at 5:49 pm

FUNNY GIRL, the last picture to have a road show engagement at the Ontario opened on October 23, 1968 and played there until March 4, 1969 (19 weeks). It was moved over to the Cinema on March 5, 1969 where it played for another 34 weeks!

sconnell1
sconnell1 on August 9, 2009 at 5:48 pm

In October of 1962 THE LONGEST DAY debuted at the Ontario on a reserve seat basis, and stayed there for 18 weeks until the arrival of LAWRENCE OF ARABIA in February of 1963. LAWRENCE was also shown on a reserve seat basis, and it remained at the Ontario for 34 weeks, making it the longest-running film ever to play there up to that time. Upon concluding its run at the Ontario, THE LONGEST DAY was immediately moved over to the Apex where it continued for another 13 weeks.

On Christmas Day of 1963 TOM JONES opened and stayed for twenty-eight weeks, making it the second longest-running film at the theater up until that time.

TOM JONES was followed in July of 1964 with BECKET, which ran on a reserved seat basis for fifteen weeks. With that film the Ontario entered the same arena as the Uptown and the Warner, both of which exhibited the road show engagements of most of the super-colossal epics and the super-spectacular musicals that were released between 1955 and 1971.

From July of 1964 until July of 1968 the Ontario played back-to-back road show engagements of eight films. In addition to BECKET, those films were: MARY POPPINS (16 weeks), THE SOUND OF MUSIC (97 weeks!), THE SAND PEBBLES (29 weeks), THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE (20 weeks), THE HAPPIEST MILLIONAIRE (8 weeks), HALF A SIXPENCE (8 weeks), and the six and half hour Russian version of WAR AND PEACE (Parts I and II) (12 weeks).

sconnell1
sconnell1 on August 9, 2009 at 5:43 pm

In October 1957 RAINTREE COUNTY became the first film that the Ontario showed on a reserve seat basis, but it would not be the last. It played there for 8 weeks before closing on Christmas Eve of 1957. On January 30, 1958, RAINTREE COUNTY opened an exclusive engagement at the Columbia, where it played for an additional 10 weeks.

Unlike other lateral moves where a film was shifted from its original location to another one that was part of the same theater chain, the Columbia and the Ontario were owned by different companies. The Columbia belonged to Loews, and the Ontario was a K-B theater.

sconnell1
sconnell1 on August 9, 2009 at 5:23 pm

OTHER ONTARIO TRIVIA:

After leaving the Ontario, ROOM AT THE TOP moved over to the MacArthur, and continued its exclusive D.C. engagement there for another seven weeks.

Four Doris Day films played at the Ontario between 1956 and 1960: THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (9 weeks), TEACHER’S PET (3 weeks), PILLOW TALK (10 weeks), and MIDNIGHT LACE (8 weeks).

THE NAKED EDGE, Gary Cooper’s last film, opened at the Ontario approximately two months after his death.

sconnell1
sconnell1 on August 9, 2009 at 5:20 pm

THE SOUND OF MUSIC reigns as the Ontario’s longevity champ by playing there for an astounding ninety-seven weeks! This almost ties the record set by THIS IS CINERAMA, which ran for a little over 98 weeks at the Warner from November 6, 1953 to September 27, 1955. No other films that played in D.C. during the 1950’s and 1960’s even came close to matching their long-running engagements, and I doubt if any other films did at any time before them, or at any time after 1972.

A little bit of Ontario trivia: MARY POPPINS and THE SOUND OF MUSIC, which played back-to-back, both starred Julie Andrews. THE SOUND OF MUSIC and THE SAND PEBBLES, which also played back- to-back, were both directed by Robert Wise.

Also for you trivia buffs, a trifecta of Julie Andrews' films played in D.C. in early March of 1965. THE AMERICANIZATION OF EMILY finished its run at the Trans-Lux on March 9, 1965, and opened locally the very next day! MARY POPPINS ended its run at the Ontario on March 16, 1965, and THE SOUND OF MUSIC opened there the next day. So, within one week you could have gorged yourself on Ms. Andrews' first three movies!

sconnell1
sconnell1 on August 9, 2009 at 5:17 pm

Four Audrey Hepburn films played at the Ontario, all with great success: SABRINA (8 weeks in late 1954), FUNNY FACE (8 weeks in April and May of 1957), LOVE IN THE AFTERNOON (9 weeks in July and August of 1957), and BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S (11 weeks at the end in 1961).

Ironically, three of Ms. Hepburn’s first five films played at the Ontario (SABRINA, FUNNY FACE, and LOVE IN THE AFTERNOON). The other two, ROMAN HOLIDAY and WAR AND PEACE, played at the Playhouse and the Capitol respectively.

sconnell1
sconnell1 on August 9, 2009 at 5:13 pm

The top ten longest running films at the Ontario were:

  1. THE SOUND OF MUSIC (97 weeks)
  2. LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (34 weeks)
  3. THE SAND PEBBLES (29 weeks)
  4. TOM JONES (28 Weeks)
  5. THOROUGLY MODERN MILLIE (20 weeks)
  6. THE LONGEST DAY (18 weeks)
  7. MARY POPPINS (16 weeks)
  8. BECKET (15 weeks)
  9. WAR AND PEACE (Russian version) (12 weeks)
  10. BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S (11 Weeks)
sconnell1
sconnell1 on August 4, 2009 at 4:29 pm

The first movie I saw at the Ontario was THE SOUND OF MUSIC sometime in mid-July of 1966 when I was nineteen. I saw HALF A SIXPENCE and FUNNY GIRL both in 1968, but the movie I went back to see again and again was THE SAND PEBBLES. Four times in all between January and August of 1967.

Steve McQueen was, and is, one of my favorite actors, and I made every effort to see every film that he was in, but for this one I went a little overboard. I first caught THE SAND PEBBLES on Saturday afternoon, January 28, 1967, just four days after it had opened. Three weeks later I went back to see it again because I had read in “Variety” that Robert Wise was going to cut the film by a half an hour.

I loved this movie and abhorred the idea that it had to be cut for any reason. So, I vowed to catch it again before that happened. Fortunately, the cuts had not yet been made, and I was relieved. However, when I went back a few weeks later for a third viewing, a full half hour of footage had indeed been removed. I could even spot the sections where things were missing. I was devastated. Still, I went back again for a fourth time before it closed in late August. I was completely bowled over by McQueen’s performance. It’s one of the best examples of naturalistic acting I have ever seen.

Other films that also suffered the fate of being cut to reduce their running times included: THE ALAMO, SPARTACUS, IT’S A MAD WORLD, and even LAWRENCE OF ARABIA! Today, you can buy a VHS version of THE ALAMO in its original full-length version, but that version is not available on DVD. SPARTACUS and LAWRENCE OF ARABIA have been restored to their original glory on their DVD versions. I’m not sure about IT’S A MAD WORLD.

JodarMovieFan
JodarMovieFan on March 25, 2009 at 11:00 pm

I’d be in for restoring this theater to at least when I remembered it back in the 80s. :) But what of its current tenant? Does the store that occupies the place have a long term lease? And even if you turn it back to a working theater, there’s the issue of parking. I haven’t been by there in years, but filling the theater, which if I recall during its refurbishment in ‘85 or so had seating close to 1000 or more. Maybe Metro is nearby. I prefer to drive. In any case, I think the MacArthur would be a better choice at coming back if and when CVS ever decides to go or can be persuaded to leave.

drusefton
drusefton on November 2, 2008 at 8:16 am

Anyone here like to get involved with restoring the theater? Some Adams Morgan residents are kicking around the idea of forming an exploration committee for turning the building into a sort of flea market/theater featuring Spanish language flicks as well as DC indie offerings, retro B&W’s, that type of stuff. Grab a homemade treat from a local vendor in the lobby, watch the movie. It could also be a community meeting place for nonprofits and other groups. If you’d like to participate — even just by emailing suggestions on funding sources — drop a line to drusefton at hotmail dot com.

sstrack
sstrack on August 4, 2008 at 2:16 pm

Another fine KB Theatre as my old friend, Bruce Burns, remembers it. We were both there for the grand (Washington) openings of The Longest Day and Lawrence of Arabia. Search light trucks, the DC National Guard Honor Guard, Bobby and Ethel Kennedy – The Longest Day opening was quite an impressive night. KB went hard ticket – all reserved seating for both films and 70mm that required the removal of a couple of rows of seats up front. Lawrence of Arabia was spectacular on that screen – the scene when he blows out the match and the sun lights up the screen – what a cut. Yes Bruce, Omar was there – I had the privilege of asking him to take his lighted cigarette upstairs to the lounge – the only time I ever spoke to a movie star.

Harvey
Harvey on March 25, 2008 at 5:03 pm

Our Own Outrageous Ontario

Washington Post, The (DC) – October 30, 1981
Author: Michael Kernan

IT IS 7:30 on a Saturday night, and the Ontario Theater is embarking on a marathon of the three “Omen” movies, one after the other. Thirty people are rattling around in the great dark chamber which has room for 1,100. The floor isn’t canted, to speak of, but the huge screen is so high that it doesn’t matter. A stage projects several yards in front of it. The place is clean, amazingly clean.

“We have three films every night,” says Seth Hurwitz, the former manager who now books pictures for the Ontario when he isn’t running his own booking company, IMP (“(It’s May Party”). “Three movies for $3, it’s a gimmick. I go to all the screenings of first-run pictures and only use proven hits. The neighborhood is changing, and we try to keep that in mind.”

The neighborhood is perhaps Washington’s most interesting, Adams-Morgan, the Columbia Road area between 16th and Connecticut. Blacks, whites, Latinos, artists, embassy people, white-haired apartment dwellers … and he’s right, it is changing, and the prices are going up.

“I tried ‘Elephant Man,’ and that didn’t go. I tried ‘Straw Dogs,’ which has plenty of violence, but it didn’t go. I put the classic ‘Freaks’ in with ‘The Fantastic Animation Festival,’ but that didn’t work either. But they loved ‘Gloria,’ which is a classy movie but violent.”

Now the audience is building. People drift in steadily, paying no attention to the movie times. A group, laden with cups, pails and bushel baskets of popcorn, files in and settles itself. On the screen, David Warner is being nastily beheaded by sheet glass, the sound track is screaming and blood is pumping, but the talkative newcomers don’t bother to look.

Recently a local magazine attacked the Ontario for running so much violence, notably the sadistic “I Spit on Your Grave.” Hurwitz and the present manager, Carlos Rosario, say they are doing their best to upgrade the product while still making a living. On weekends the theater shows Spanish-language films, mostly Mexican, with the occasional Cantinflas comedy (no subtitles). These do very well indeed.The live rock concerts also do well.

“It’s expensive to operate as a concert Hall,” Hurwitz says, “because there are no lights or sound, everything has to be brought in and taken out. We pick them carefully, charge $8 or $9, you have to be sure you have a hit. We had three this year, all sellouts.”

One problem is making the theater attractive to suburban kids who might feel threatened by the neighborhood and perhaps don’t understand the uninhibited Columbia Road audiences. The Ontario goes out of its way to have police protection at concerts and a couple of black-belt bouncers hanging around … “They’re kids themselves, and they’re concerned mainly with the fire regulations. It’s a happy group, a little noisy, but we’ve never had any trouble,” Hurwitz says.

The first “Omen” picture is over, and more people drift in from the black-marble-and-mirror lobby designed by Marvin Goldman when K-B Theaters took over the place in 1958. Someone calls to a friend clear across the theater. the friend shouts happily back. Small children run up and down the aisles. Everyone seems immune to the film’s determined spookiness. It is only when the action explodes that the chatter stops, like crickets in the country when a car passes.

“ Outrageous is our byword,” Hurwitz says. “We don’t do any X-rated stuff. I would say the ideal combination was ‘Dawn of the Dead’ and ‘halloween II.’ The perfect Ontario movie. Sometimes they come in late and don’t like it and demand their money back, or they want to pay $1 just to see the last picture.”

For several years he tried to run hard-ticket reserved-seat programs at the Ontario , but it was no good. The turning point came in March 1979, when Bruce Lee’s “Enter the Dragon” opened, and receipts went through the roof. Since then, the Ontario Theater has provided a fascinating study in esthetics, teetering delicately on the razor’s edge between art and money. It’s also the last word in community movie theaters.

The other night they had a ridiculous picture called “Dracula’s Dog.” A guy came up to the box office and said, “I didnt know dracula had no dawg.” But he paid his $3 and went in anyway.