Ambassador Theatre

2464 18th Street NW,
Washington, DC 20009

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KNICKERBOCKER Theatre; Washington, DC.

Viewing: Photo | Street View

The Knickerbocker Theatre was built in 1915 for Harry Crandall, who owned a small chain of theaters in Washington, including the Lincoln and Metropolitan Theatres (and later, the Tivoli). It was designed by Reginald Geare on Columbia Road, with a sedate Georgian Revival facade that followed a curve on Columbia Road. The three-story facade, of limestone on red brick, also had touches of Colonial Revival and Neo-Classical styles. The interior of the 1,700-seat movie house was a graceful and not overly decorated blend of Adam and Neo-Classical styles.

The Knickerbocker Theatre opened on October 12, 1917, with the historical drama “Betsy Ross” and an appearance by the film’s star, Alice Brady.

On January 28, 1922, during an intermission in the hit comedy film, “Get Rich Quick Wallingford”, while the orchestra was playing, the Knickerbocker Theatre’s poorly constructed roof collapsed after a heavy snowstorm over the past two days had piled almost two feet of snow on it. After the cave-in, 98 people were killed and 136 injured, in what was then Washington’s worst disaster. Crandall closed all of his theaters in sympathy for the dead after the Knickerbocker Theatre disaster for a week, and was not charged with any wrongdoing, which was not the case of Geare, whose career as the most popular theater architect in the District of Columbia up until that time came to an abrupt end. He killed himself in 1927, as did Crandall, who later went bankrupt, a decade later.

In 1923, Thomas Lamb was hired to build a new theater in the shell of the Knickerbocker Theatre, which would be called the Ambassador Theatre. (Crandall would also replace Geare with Lamb on his next project, the Tivoli Theatre). Lamb’s theater retained Geare’s facade, which Lamb would embellish, but the rest of the theater was all new. Lamb’s interior was a blend of Adam and Neo-Classic styles, somewhat more ornate than the Knickerbocker Theatre, but nearly the same size. The 1,800-seat Ambassador Theatre opened on September 20, 1923 with the Warner Bros. film “High Life”.

By the 1950’s, the Ambassador Theatre was struggling to keep up with competition from television, and its owners opted to raze the historic theater in 1969, after years of low attendance. A bank was constructed on the site in 1978.

Contributed by Bryan, RickB

Recent comments (view all 37 comments)

jeffkrulik on December 23, 2009 at 3:05 pm

Blizzard of 1922: Knickerbocker Theater Disaster
Newsreel footage of aftermath

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on February 17, 2010 at 3:08 pm

They say this is the site of the theatre:

View link

sconnell1 on March 30, 2012 at 2:52 pm

I made a mistake in my comment on June 10th. The correct title of the film is JOHN GOLDFARB PLEASE COME HOME.

BobFurmanek on October 19, 2012 at 11:16 pm

The Ambassador was one of two theaters in Washington to play Alfred Hitchcock’s DIAL M FOR MURDER in 2-D, without glasses. I’ve posted an ad for opening day, May 27, 1954.

More information can be found in this article:

Mendy216 on November 28, 2012 at 5:35 pm

My Uncle was in the Knickerbocker theater the day it colapsed. heard sone noise and he and many others left by the exit. he was in the exit door archway as the roof fell in. he lived on champlain st. NW. 1 block away.

DavidZornig on February 7, 2014 at 9:40 pm

FYI. The Shorpy Higginbotham Facebook page and website has a detailed photo that will enlarge, of the aftermath of the collapse.

rivest266 on June 20, 2015 at 5:29 pm

1917 and 1923 grand opening ads in photo section

DavidZornig on August 5, 2015 at 10:35 pm

I uploaded the 1-29-22 roof collapse photo from the below Shorpy link.

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