While Black architect Isaiah T. Hatton (1883-1921) designed the building in the Italian Renaissance Revival style, Reginald W. Geare (1889-1927) designed the movie theater on the first floor of the 1921 building. Similar to other establishments in the U Street corridor, the Dunbar Theater supported the Black community as an important communal space in a time of racial segregation in the city. Discrimination denied Black Washingtonians opportunities to socialize in public establishments, so the movie theater and jazz venue offered recreational opportunities.
The Southern Aid Society-Dunbar Theater Building served as the DC headquarters for the Southern Aid Society, the oldest Black life insurance company in the country. The building also provided residential units, offices, and commercial space for Black people. This mixed-use building was an important element of the Black commercial area that developed around Seventh and U Streets in the early part of the twentieth century.
DC Inventory: May 16, 1984
National Register: November 6, 1986
Within Greater U Street Historic District