Suddenly, the rush is on to return the silver screen to D.C. neighborhoods that for a generation or more saw the theater industry abandon them for the suburbs and massive shopping mall multiplexes.
With the Angelika deal, by 2015 theatergoers will be able to enjoy foreign and independent films — as well as culinary offerings from former Food Network executives — in an area that largely remains a warehouse district.
The developer, South Carolina-based Edens, plans to build luxury apartments or condominiums on top of the theater, similar to a project it opened with Angelika in Merrifield in Fairfax County last year.
Edens tested the idea for movies on the site, immediately north of Union Market between Fifth and Sixth streets NE, by holding drive-in shows nearby. But Edens Managing Director Steven C. Boyle said it wasn’t difficult to persuade Angelika’s owners to open there because of the explosion of creative energy he sees coming to the city.
“When you look at what’s happening to D.C., the transformation and the physical presence of creative people doing things, making things, to me it’s one of the most exciting things happening to any city in the country today,” Boyle said. “And we want that community of people, as well as the rest of D.C., to view Union Market as a place to reside or work.”
This isn’t the District’s first movie theater boom. In the early 1900s, about 55 new theaters opened in the city, most of them featuring just one small screen, and by 1930 there were 10 cinemas alone along Ninth Street NW between Pennsylvania and Rhode Island avenues.
The vast majority of the older theaters closed as the population shifted to the suburbs and film technology advanced, according to the Washington D.C. Economic Partnership.
But now, like so many other shops and businesses, movie theaters are returning to the city and close-in suburbs, with operators big and small looking for places to expand and developers — eager for ways to attract crowds to their properties — happily taking their calls.
A 16-screen, 2,000-seat theater by Showplace Icon will open two blocks east of Nationals Park, replacing a pumping station for the water utility. The independently run West End Cinema opened in 2010 at 23rd and M streets, in the former Inner Circle Theatre, which closed in 2004.
Landmark Theatres, which specializes in independent and foreign films, already has an eight-screen cinema on E Street in Penn Quarter and another in Bethesda. Its 31,000-square-foot theater in NoMa will be part of a mixed-use project by the JBG Cos. called Capitol Point and should open in fall 2016.
“We are dedicated to increasing our footprint in the Washington, D.C. market,” Ted Mundorff, Landmark’s president and chief executive, said in a statement.