District Theaters

The Star Theater, opened in 1906, constituted the first motion picture theater in Washington, DC. Audiences fell in love with similar small neighborhood theaters in the following years; between 1909 and 1914, the number of movie theaters in the District increased from eleven to sixty-nine screens. The 9th Street NW theater district (from Pennsylvania Avenue north to Mount Vernon Square) housed most of these early cinemas, yet subsequent advancements in technology led to better movies, bustling audiences, and bigger theaters on F Street, just west of the first theater district.

Out-of-town architects contributed plans for the larger, more prominent movie theaters, while local architects worked on many neighborhood motion picture houses. One of DC’s earliest theater moguls was native Washingtonian Harry Crandall, whose work ultimately included the Metropolitan, Central, Tivoli, Apollo, Lincoln, Colony, and Savoy Theaters. He was also involved in the construction of the Knickerbocker Theater on 18th Street NW, which became infamous after a roof collapse killed 98 patrons in 1922 (Crandall was cleared of any blame, but haunted by the incident). Crandall became the largest movie theater operator in the city, but was ultimately forced to sell his theaters after the stock market crash of 1929, which led to the Great Depression. Many of Crandall’s theaters were designed by Baltimorean John J. Zink, who drafted the plans and intimately worked on the construction of thirteen of the Capital’s theaters, including the MacArthur, Atlas, and Uptown.

In the early 1940s, the “golden age of Hollywood” struck DC resulting in a high demand for film entertainment. The H Street NE Corridor, “Black Broadway” on U Street NW, and Downtown’s F Street boasted numerous impressive movie houses surrounded by thriving commercial districts. Unfortunately, the loss of population following World War II and the 1968 riots that occurred in the wake of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination devastated H Street and resulted in the loss of many movie theaters. Theaters on F Street and U Street also suffered during this time.

In recent years, many of the District’s movie houses continue to serve as theater spaces or have been rehabilitated for new uses. Explore the District’s legacy of motion pictures, movies, and neighborhood entertainment in this collection of historically designated District Theaters.

Warner Theatre Building (and Interior)

This ten-story theater and office building, originally known as The Earle and now currently known as the Warner Theatre, was designed in 1924 by noted theater architect C. Howard Crane and his New York partner Kenneth Franzheim. Originally, the Earle…

Atlas Theater and Shops

Designed by noted theater designer John Jacob Zink in the Art Deco Style, the Atlas Theater and Shops were an iconic part of the H Street NE Corridor for 30 years. The building is identifiable through its Art Deco elements, such as zigzag…

Mott Motors (Plymouth Theater)

Built in 1928, the one-story commercial Mott Motors building typifies the small automobile dealerships that fostered the transformation of traditional retail streets into automobile-oriented shopping strips. Designed by the noted local firm Upman…

Senator Theater

Designed by architect John J. Zink, K-B Theatres opened the Senator Theatre on February 19, 1942 with 946 available seats. The first film shown in the communal space was Alfred Hitchcock’s “Suspicion." The auditorium had large murals with classical…

Strand Theater

When the Strand Theater opened in 1928, it was the first motion picture theater constructed east of the Anacostia River for African American patrons. For more than 40 years, the Strand was a center of community social life, reinforcing the…

Howard Theatre

Built in 1910, the Howard Theatre is one of the oldest theaters in the country that not only served Black audiences but provided a space for Black performers. For more than five decades of the twentieth century, the Howard Theatre stood at the…

Southern Aid Society Building-Dunbar Theater Building

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…

Lincoln Theatre

A major element of the historic U Street commercial corridor, the Lincoln Theatre is a rare early movie theater. The Lincoln was completed in 1921 in the sumptuous style of the grand movie palaces of the day. The neoclassical theater retains a high…

Tivoli Theatre

Completed in 1924, the Tivoli Theatre is the only theater still standing in DC by Thomas White Lamb (1871-1942), the leading theater architect of the Golden Age of motion picture palaces. The theater reflects Italian Renaissance revival and…

Newton Theater

The 1007-seat Newton Theater opened in 1937 on the main commercial strip in Brookland, at a time when the trend in movie-going drifted away from large downtown venues to smaller, neighborhood-based theaters. For many years the Newton Theater has been…

MacArthur Theater

The MacArthur Theater is a large neighborhood movie house, characteristic of the theaters that were once prominent in the city's outlying commercial centers. Such places of popular entertainment, convenient by car and removed from downtown…

Uptown Theater

The Uptown Theater is prominently located along Connecticut Avenue NW in the Cleveland Park Historic District. Designed by John J. Zink – a notable and prolific movie theater architect from Baltimore – the theater’s Art Deco/Moderne design is…

Chevy Chase Theater (Avalon Theater)

Built in 1922 by noted local architects Upman and Adams, the Chevy Chase Theater reflects a "high-style" example of a neighborhood movie house. The main auditorium features a stage, organ screens, and proscenium characteristic of movie theaters built…
This tour is accessible via walking, public transport, or car. Please keep in mind that while the theaters are geographically organized, you should look up the sites to determine distance before beginning a tour.