MacArthur Theater

4859 MacArthur Boulevard NW,
Washington, DC 20007

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MSC77 on April 4, 2018 at 8:05 am

Here’s the link to a new article on roadshow and large format presentations in Washington, DC, which includes numerous mentions of the MacArthur.

Showcase Presentations in Washington, DC

The piece is a work in progress, so please don’t hesitate to offer up any useful feedback.

davidcoppock on October 3, 2017 at 11:30 pm

Was it named after General Macarthur?

Coate on October 3, 2017 at 9:46 pm

This article on “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” should put to rest any questions about whether or not the movie was shown here in 70mm.

Coate on October 3, 2017 at 9:43 pm

The MacArthur run of “Amadeus,” just for the sake of clarity, was later on in that film’s (long) release. DC first run was at K-B Cinema. See “Amadeus”: The 70mm Engagements article.

JodarMovieFan on October 3, 2017 at 6:43 pm

I can’t believe its been over 20 years since this place closed. 27 years since I’ve seen a movie inside. And its been 14 years since I’ve driven by the place and actually went in. I’m sure the CVS is the same inside as it was when I was there in 2004.

In reviewing my posts, I can’t believe I forgot to mention I saw Amadeus here in 1984 in 70mm. At that age, I had virtually no interest in Merchant Ivory-type period movies up to then, but I recall the commercials/trailer seemed to convey it to be almost unconventional. In fact, I believe MTV had commercials with the minimal frame cuts to appeal to that audience.

Upon viewing, one can say the movie isn’t Merchant Ivory-esque but a thoroughly enjoyable film and cast. In particular, was Tom Hulce cast as Amadeus and that cackle he was able to pull off that the real Amadeus supposedly had and a dirty sense of humor. This played quite well opposite F. Murray Abraham’s Salieri. I believe I saw it 2x before it went. The musical scenes were rapid cut but still audibly engaging given the sound format and McA’s auditorium acoustics. As its eventual Academy Award wins prove, I’m not the only one who thinks this way. :)

If memory serves me correctly, there was an extended or director’s cut that was longer than the original. It released only in 35mm so I avoided it.

Local619 on July 13, 2016 at 4:10 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)..

HowardBHaas on July 13, 2016 at 5:28 am

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

JodarMovieFan on July 13, 2016 at 5:21 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?

Logan5 on July 12, 2016 at 1:52 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).

rivest266 on June 21, 2015 at 12:43 pm

December 25th, 1946 grand opening ad in photo section

HowardBHaas on October 23, 2014 at 3:36 pm

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

dickneeds111 on October 23, 2014 at 11:31 am

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.

sguttag on October 15, 2014 at 10:07 pm

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.

JodarMovieFan on October 15, 2014 at 8:20 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 15, 2014 at 5:00 pm

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

Jay Harvey
Jay Harvey on October 15, 2014 at 4:24 pm

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

Giles on October 15, 2014 at 1:47 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 14, 2014 at 4:20 pm

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!

sguttag on October 14, 2014 at 4:00 pm

That number does not sound unreasonable.

HowardBHaas on October 14, 2014 at 3:57 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 14, 2014 at 1:03 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.

JodarMovieFan on October 13, 2014 at 8:22 pm

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 13, 2014 at 4:11 am

Jodar…“stereo”, in cinema, has been used for any sound format having more than 1-channel. Furthermore, Dolby quickly adopted the name “Dolby Stereo” and applied it to all of their multi-channel cinema formats. So 70mm 6-track Dolby Stereo is really a 6-channel sound format. The “stereo” has nothing to do with the number of surround channels. For whatever reason, there was never a special logo or promotion for the 70mm stereo surround format (assigned format 43 by Dolby in their CP200 processor). In Dolby’s release lists of the day…the only means of knowing which titles had a stereo-surround track would be to see the “SS” after the title’s name. The 70mm stereo-surround format is what evolved into what consumers know as 5.1. Tracks 2 and 4 in the 70mm format, which originally were used for Left-Center and Right-Center stage channels were first repurposed as “baby boom channels by only recording LF information on them and applying a suitable expander and Low-pass filter as well as a line-amplifier to raise their level. In this manner the format was compatible with non-baby-boom theatres. Those theatres would lack the expander as well as the approximate 10dB of in-band boost so their LC/RC speakers would just play those bass tracks as if they were normal tracks. When the Stereo Surround format came out, tracks 2 and 4 used the LF portion of the audio spectrum still for baby-boom (250Hz and below) but the HF portion (500Hz and above) were recorded stereo surround information. Track 6, the mono surround track would supply the LF portion of the surrounds (500Hz and below) to all of the surrounds in mono. Since directionality is proportional to the higher frequencies, it convincingly created "Stereo Surrounds.” though only the upper frequencies are stereo. Theatres without the CAT158 module in an SA5 (CP100) or the Accessory Rack (CP200) would not have the decoding circuits and just play the mono-surround track as normal. If the theatre had LC/RC speakers but no modern “Baby-Boom” sound processor that would filter the HF information above 250Hz, then one would need to disconnect the HF drivers on those two speakers (virtually all crossovers in that era were at 500Hz to keep the crossover point out of the dialog region.

The number of stereo-surround movies back in the early to mid 80s were VERY few…Apocalypse Now, Superman, Pink Floyd’s THE WALL are some of the few titles around that time. Star Trek II definitely was NOT recorded with stereo-surrounds. Even if the MacArthur had the decoder (which it did NOT under either K-B or Circle or Cineplex/Loews), there stereo surround information was not there to be decoded.

What you likely heard was possibly a cleaver mix of say Right channel and Surrounds to try and steer the sound a bit or possibly a poorly distributed surround array (the MacA didn’t have what one would consider an optimal surround layout. It had a handful of “bookshelf” type speakers going down the side/rear of the theatre (typical for that era). As such, it is possible that the nearest speaker would have a dominating influence on the surround perception. Furthermore, how the speakers were wired to achieve a suitable impedance to the amplifier could have sections of the surround array non-uniform (the series/parallel wiring could have more current going through the rear grouping of speakers if that group had a lower resulting impedance due to fewer speakers on that group). I really can’t say what you personally heard. I can only give you the facts on how the system works and how the movie was recorded.

JodarMovieFan on October 12, 2014 at 8:47 pm

Steve, I hear what you’re saying, so how is it what I experienced ‘mono’, if the sound was particularly (deliberately) placed?? And the movies I experienced were advertised 70mm 6 track STEREO, probably Dolby. I’m tempted to search through the Washington Post archives just to look at both the movie ad and Post movie directory. Maybe I’m misunderstanding the terminology by using ‘surround,’ but when I speak of my movie experience, I hear distinct sounds coming from different parts of the theater as described in my various posts.

Thinking back on my memory of II’s 70mm Mac showing, just after the screw hitting the floor sound, there’s the rear right to front left swoosh sound of Kirk’s son, just prior to his onscreen attack. The subsequent sound of empty metallic cargo containers being tossed about as they fight (in an obviously rehearsed and WWF-fake fashion) with these containers tossed about heard mangnificently in distinct surround.

If you recall projecting the movie, how could you not recall hearing this? If the spatial sound that I heard is not stereo but mono, how can this be?

When I saw Star Trek II at the AMC Academy 6 in plain Dolby Stereo, that scene I mentioned played differently as the entire ‘right’ side would produce the screw hitting the floor sound element. In 70mm 6 track, the sound produces the urge to turn your head ‘towards’ the sound. That was a neat trick!

Back in those days, my favorite seat was closer to the front but not smack IN front of the screen but to where my peripheral vision is such that the field of vision is flat or 180º. This way I am not distracted by the theater’s decor or lack thereof and am ‘immersed’ into whats going onscreen and being sound surrounded. That is how I recall blogging about my 70mm movie experiences :)

sguttag on October 8, 2014 at 4:28 pm

Virtually all 70mm (blow ups or 65mm origination) movies from 1977 onwards (shot, not reissues of classic titles) had “baby boom” tracks. Even Stereo Surround movies had baby-boom. In fact, the Stereo Surround format was created in a manner that ensured that a Stereo-Surround print could be single inventoried to ANY theatre.

There were rare exceptions to the baby-boom format for titles like “Annie” which used all 5-stage channels. But those were VERY rare…in fact, my mind is drawing a blank of any other titles.