MacArthur Theater

4859 MacArthur Boulevard NW,
Washington, DC 20007

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MacArthur Theater

Viewing: Photo | Street View

Opened as a single screen movie theater on December 25, 1946. On December 7, 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 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 87 comments)

JodarMovieFan on October 14, 2014 at 4:22 am

Steve, I’m completely floored by what you have revealed. Most of it is highly technical, which is cool and will take me time to digest.

I vaguely remember the layout of the main theater after the ‘82 remodel. When you mention 'bookshelf’ speakers, it makes me think of long rods from the ceiling attaching a box like speaker at equal distances, angled such that it faces or directs sound at the audience. Were these speakers that cheap??? It had to have sufficient construction to deliver sound better than a home setup I would think.
I remember seeing ‘Brainstorm’ here and in the heavy sequences hearing crackling sounds from the middle as if the sound was too much for the speakers to handle. Maybe thats why…they were THAT cheap!

All I know is what I have experienced and how I perceived things. If the Mac had such a not-so-glam set up, I am dumbfounded to have those positive cinematic memories forever ingrained in my mind as one of the ‘best.’ Its got to mean something even with what you say were minimalist standards of that time.

So, what in your opinion, of the 70mm capable theaters in the DC metro area were technically BEST? I am curious about the Fine Arts theater now since I have fond memories of 70mm there. Maybe we should continue that discussion there. I thought those tube speakers made it state of the art and were better looking than boxes dropping down from the ceiling. :)

sguttag on October 14, 2014 at 9:03 pm

Under K-B, the MacArthur had some E-V speaker…I forget the model. Under Circle, I’m pretty sure they were Altec Model 312 speakers. I believe Circle they flew the surrounds via aircraft cable. Depending on how you do your eye hooks you can also create a tilt so they point down a bit, as was done at the MacArthur. That level of speaker was pretty typical of surrounds really up and until about 1990, to be honest. I’ve seen TONs of bookshelf speakers used as surrounds.

As far as coverage…probably the K-B Cinema had the best surround array at that time. I forget the exact number, but there were A LOT of surrounds. They were from Frazier.

The Fine Arts used a “concept” by Community called the DSS surround. While the coverage was good, the response was not stellar. Dolby published a document suggesting that a large quantity of 8" drivers would make a good surround array and Community took it to heart. The fact that no other K-B theatre (or Circle/Showcase) ever used them again should be an indicator as to how well they were received. While they may have been adequate for optical surround tracks (35mm Dolby Stereo) since the frequency response on the surrounds was so poor, for 70mm, they were inadequate. They also looked really bad, in my opinion.

HowardBHaas on October 14, 2014 at 11:57 pm

My notes indicate the KB Cinema had 24 speakers. That’s likely from an old newspaper article, but I might have also counted them up on the walls.

sguttag on October 15, 2014 at 12:00 am

That number does not sound unreasonable.

Jay Harvey
Jay Harvey on October 15, 2014 at 12:20 am

On a cold, rainy day in December of 1979 this theatre held the world premiere of “Star Trek-The Motion Picture”. Robert Wise actually brought the film cans here because Paramount was in a rush for him to complete it for the holiday season. Shatner, Nimoy, Gene Roddenbery & the rest were here for the premiere. Now a CVS pharmacy occupies the building. There ought to be a law!

Giles on October 15, 2014 at 9:47 pm

so the premier of ‘Star Trek – The Motion Picture’ played here, but didn’t actually play here, right? or am I wrong? I thought I remembered seeing it over at the Uptown.

Jay Harvey
Jay Harvey on October 16, 2014 at 12:24 am

Wikipedia states the film had its world premiere at the K-B MacArthur theatre

sguttag on October 16, 2014 at 1:00 am

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 16, 2014 at 4:20 am

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 6:07 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.

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