Ambassador Theatre

2464 18th Street NW,
Washington, DC 20009

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Dial M for Murder

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 36 comments)

sconnell1
sconnell1 on June 11, 2009 at 12:41 am

While the Ambassador played BECAUSE THEY’RE YOUNG between June 15-June 24 of 1961, the Metropolitan played THE RAT RACE.

The Metropolitan was closed between September 6 and October 4 of 1961. The Ambassador played COME SEPTEMBER.

While the Ambassador played WEST SIDE STORY between June 12-July 2 of 1963, the Metropolitan played THE WONDERUL WORLD OF THE BROTHERS GRIMM.

While the Ambassador played a series of second-run features between May 20-July 7 of 1964, the Metropolitan played the first run of WHAT A WAY TO GO.

While the Ambassador played a series of second-run features between November 18-December 22 of 1964, the Metropolitan played the first run of GOODBYE CHARLIE.

While the Ambassador played the first run of JOHN GOLDFARB, PLEASE COME HOMEY between April 14-May 11 of 1963, the played the Metropolitan played the first run of CHEYENNE AUTUMN.

jeffkrulik
jeffkrulik on December 23, 2009 at 3:05 pm

Blizzard of 1922: Knickerbocker Theater Disaster
Newsreel footage of aftermath
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h62ec3Ilgno

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

Tinseltoes
Tinseltoes on December 1, 2010 at 1:12 pm

On this day in 1939, the Ambassador opened day-and-date with the Earle Theatre with the Washington premiere engagement of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Jamaica Inn.” The Earle, however, also had a stage show with comedian Joe Cook and his “Laugh Factory” revue, with large newspaper advertising all to itself. The Ambassador’s single feature engagement was listed only in the alphabetical directory for the Warner Bros. circuit.

sconnell1
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
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: http://www.3dfilmarchive.com/dial-m-blu-ray-review

Mendy216
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
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.

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