MacArthur Theater

4859 MacArthur Boulevard NW,
Washington, DC 20007

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MacArthur Theater

Viewing: Photo | Street View

Opened as a 1,000-seat single screen movie theater on December 25, 1946 with Errol Flynn & Eleanor Parker in “Never Say Goodbye”. It was operated jointly by K-B Theatres and Warner Bor. Circuit Management Corp. On December 6, 1979, the MacArthur Theater held the world premiere of “Star Trek:The Motion Picture”. It was triplexed in 1982 (architects Goenner & Woodhouse), and closed in 1997.

Drugstore chain CVS took over the lease of the building that the same year and the once proud interior of the MacArthur Theater became a place to buy discount band-aids. Sadly, many of DC’s classic movie theaters have also been acquired by CVS.

Contributed by Ross Melnick

Recent comments (view all 94 comments)

sguttag on October 15, 2014 at 8:00 pm

You would be mistaken. Star Trek premiered here AND played here. The Black Hole played the Uptown…maybe you were thinking that?

JodarMovieFan on October 15, 2014 at 11:20 pm

Re: KB Cinema’s sound system. I remember it pretty well when ‘Empire Strikes Back’ played there. The Tie fighters whizzing by like jet craft in stereo sound all, I’m afraid to say surround sound.

In regard to sound systems in general and thinking about the above posts, imho, you don’t need great sophisticated equipment to experience sound around you to get that spatial effect. I remember when broadcast tv began stereo broadcasts in the mid 80s. While Johnny Carson’s show was not that great, Miami Vice and more so, the awards shows had some cool stereo spatial effects. I still have a PCM recording of Janet Jackson performing..lip synching to ‘Control’, from the AMA awards show and there’s screaming everywhere..yelling to the left of me..behind me..applause, people shouting ‘JANET!’ All I had was a Pioneer Digital 8 stereo player and 4 speakers placed around the living room and a 25" Sony tv.

Now discovering how technically unsophisticated the Mac’s system was, whatever and however I heard it, mono surrounds and all, it was enough to immerse me into whatever was happening onscreen as long as I sat in that sweet spot, which was usually in front of the back of the middle section and center.

Giles, as far as I can remember the only Star Trek films shown at the Uptown were Star Trek II and the reboots..I think. If they did, I would have been there at at least one of the showings. II had a one week run in Dec ‘82 just before Gandhi opened there in 70mm. I know this for a fact because I saw it 2x :) I can still remember driving my Mom to work before her 7pm shift and hightailing across Mass Ave to Woodley, trying to find parking before the 7pm or 7:30pm the snow.

Why see the movie so many times? With a good film, when you see it again and again, you sometimes experience something or see something you did not recall from the previous viewings. What I recall from the Uptown viewing, different from prior ones, was how the sound system was able to convey the ship engine sounds ‘slowing’ just prior to the Reliant attack on the Enterprise. The ‘screw hitting the floor’ sound that I refer to in my previous posts, for whatever lack of tech sophistication in the hardware here, sounded less prominent at the Uptown. I always thought the Uptown’s sound was sometimes muffled, albeit slightly, in comparison to here and other venues.

Visually, the expanse of the Uptown’s superior screen size improved on the 70mm experience (aside from the grain) vs the Mac’s for sure. Starfields, simplistic effects for sure, made you feel you were traveling in space and the full beauty shots of the ships like the Reliant’s were all the more dramatic.

Going back to the sound topic at the Mac, pre ‘82 remodel, Steve mentioned the exposed front speakers in the front of the theater that were there because they couldn’t fit or be hidden. Looking back, it was a blessing in disguise because were they to be hidden behind something, they would probably impede the sound delivery.

sguttag on October 16, 2014 at 1:07 am

The MacArthur’s stage speakers were all behind the screen. The exposed speakers (on the stage) were subwoofers that were installed for Trek II.

The Cinema didn’t get stereo surrounds until relatively late…after 1987. The Uptown had stereo surrounds first (one of the first in the nation). The Uptown’s surround layout was “unique.” There weren’t that many but they were large speakers…Altec A7s.

dickneeds111 on October 23, 2014 at 2:31 pm

My favorite D.C. theatre or all around presentation was the Ontario. There Todd AO showing of Sound Of Music was fantastic. I also saw it at the Gary in Boston and was disappointed in it’s presentation there. Boston’s best presentation of 70mm was either the Charles or the Astor. Both big screens and great sound. The Saxon and Gary(both Sack/USA or Lowes theatres) were fair. The Charles was originally Walter Reade who took care of film presentation. When Sack took over it was excellent until they they put in a new smaller screen. The Charles reminded me very much of the Ontario in its conmstruction.

HowardBHaas on October 23, 2014 at 6:36 pm

see this site’s Homepage News today for Oct 28 event regarding this theater.

rivest266 on June 21, 2015 at 3:43 pm

December 25th, 1946 grand opening ad in photo section

Logan5 on July 12, 2016 at 4:52 pm

The world premiere of “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” was held here in December 1979, but it was on Thursday December 6, 1979 at 7:00PM – one day before the film’s scheduled wide release date (December 7).

JodarMovieFan on July 13, 2016 at 8:21 am

Speaking of “Star Trek: The Motion Picture,” I found this never before seen clip on youtube taken on premier night at the MacArthur. The image quality is excellent and shows the theater and its marquee and some quick interviews with some of the stars. From the sounds of the screaming crowd, there must’ve been hundreds outside, if not more. Grace Lee Whitney and Persis Khambatta look so beautiful. Its sad most of them are all gone now. Too bad, no interior shots of the interior.

And, to finally settle the 70mm debate, there’s no mention of it on the marquee. So its just plain old 35mm eprad stereo.

The link is

Can you believe its been almost 20 years since it stopped showing movies?

HowardBHaas on July 13, 2016 at 8:28 am

Liked this theater but was only there 2ce. JodarMovieFan, looking at that video, no room for marquee to say 70mm.

Local619 on July 13, 2016 at 7:10 pm

Washington Post display ads of 12-5-1979 and 12-8-1979 only state Dolby Sound.. no mention of 70MM at any of the five DC area theatres.. MacArthur, Langley, Jennifer and Carrollton 6 all on Dolby and Marlow (no Dolby)..

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