Will Takoma Theatre Have a Third Act?
Thursday, November 24, 2005
The Takoma Theatre wasn't always the quiet place it is today.
Built as a movie house, it opened in 1924 and for decades was a favorite destination for filmgoers.
But like so many single-screen cinemas of the 20th century, the Takoma was doomed to eventual irrelevance by the rise of the multiplex.
So when an aspiring playwright named Milton McGinty bought the Takoma 22 years ago and turned it into a stage for live productions, he seemed to have found a way to ensure a place in the community for the historic theater.
But the decades that followed were often difficult. Even as McGinty poured his heart and his money into the 500-seat playhouse, the Takoma struggled to find its niche, and to attract a large, loyal following.
A few years ago, an alliance of arts-minded neighbors banded together in a bid to revitalize the Takoma. They rented it from McGinty and set out to reinvent it as a place not just for theater but also for dance, music and film. The effort showed promise, but it fell short, and earlier this year, its board fell apart in a swirl of acrimony.
Now, the theater on Fourth Street NW, a block south of the Takoma Metro station, sits idle most of the time. An occasional performance, such as one last month by the Capital City Orchestra, opens up the wrought-iron gates that guard the entrance.
But more often than not the gates stay closed day after day, and the future of the theater is uncertain, worrying supporters like Loretta Neumann.
"If there's an icon in our neighborhood, it's the theater," Neumann said. "We want a theater there, and we want to keep using it as a theater."
Elsewhere in the District, the fate of old movie houses has aroused similar anxiety. But in Chevy Chase, for example, efforts to preserve the Avalon as a cultural center have had more success. Hoping to keep that theater from becoming just a big CVS or Rite Aid, local residents created a nonprofit organization to buy the movie house, which they have since fashioned into a showcase for independent films.
For the Takoma to thrive as a theater, or as some sort of broader community arts center, it will take an effort like the one that Chevy Chase pulled together, said Tony Gittens, executive director of the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities.
"None of this is easy," Gittens said. "It will take a community effort to make a theater like that one go."