2464 18th Street NW,
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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.
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