Several years ago, the Avalon Theatre was abandoned, stripped and left for dead. Loews Cineplex Entertainment, the company that then owned and operated the theater, closed its doors in March 2001 and, in Grinch-like fashion, removed the venue's chairs, projectors, screens and practically every other piece of equipment in sight. A wagering man would have bet that moment marked the end of the Avalon.
Fortunately, that gamble wouldn't have paid off. During a two-year saga that sounds like the plot of a feel-good family film, devoted supporters of the theater -- who formed a group called Friends of the Avalon -- and developer Douglas Jemal raised around $750,000, renovated the place and reopened its grand Connecticut Avenue doors in the spring of 2003, 70 years after the Avalon made its Chevy Chase debut.
The theater shows mostly independent films and is now owned and operated by the Avalon Theatre Project, a non-profit entity formed to restore the theater. Ticket prices are fairly standard: $9.75 regular admission and $7 for matinees, students and seniors. Members of the theater pay $5 to $6.50 for tickets.
What makes the Avalon unique is the look of the place. Moviegoers walk through brand new mahogany-colored doors into a refurbished lobby with freshly painted burgundy walls and gilded trim. Inside the main theater, 428 cushy chairs, complete with cupholders, fill the rows. Most of the seats are adorned on the backs with gold plaques, each of which contains the name of the individual that bought the seat as part of a fund-raising drive. Look closely and you might find the two chairs that bear the names Rock Hudson and Doris Day. (No one knows which contributor bought them, but we think it's a nice touch.)
While the Avalon doesn't have stadium-seating, it does boast wide aisles and something that can't be found in most cineplexes: an overhead mural of a sky filled with cottony clouds and whimsical cherubs. (Contrary to popular belief, the mural -- retouched as part of the renovation effort -- doesn't date back to the theater's origins; it was added in 1985.) The rich, teal green ceiling, cream-colored walls and gold accents complete the majestic moviegoing experience, which also features a 41-feet-wide, 19-feet-tall screen. Upstairs, a small auditorium with 165 refurbished seats hosts movies and private functions.
The Washington area has experienced a cinematic renaissance in recent years thanks to the openings the two Landmark Cinemas and Silver Spring's AFI Silver. But for some, the Avalon's return may be the sweetest because it was made possible by movie-lovers themselves. Hopefully, this time the theater will live happily ever after.
-- Jen Chaney (updated Oct. 17, 2006)