Final curtain might be falling on Bethesda Theatre

By Stephanie Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 17, 2010

The long-running Bethesda Theatre could soon be going dark for good.

The Wisconsin Avenue landmark is going on the auction block June 29, after its owners defaulted on their mortgage, said Paul Cooper, vice president of Alex Cooper Auctioneers. No potential buyers have made themselves known yet, he said.

The theater, which has nearly 700 seats, a concession stand, a box office and a marquee, has undergone many changes since 1938, when it opened as an art deco movie house. It was renamed and reopened as the Bethesda Cinema and Drafthouse in 1983, and as the Bethesda Theatre Cafe in 1990.

In 2007, it underwent a $12 million renovation by the Bozzuto Group, which received about $3.5 million in state and county funding and tax credits to build apartments above the theater.

Tom Baum, president of the Bethesda Cultural Alliance, which owns the theater, said efforts to build a subscription base fell short as the recession hit.

"It's a crippling blow to having a theater basically starting up amidst an economy taking a turn for the worst," he said.

Despite news of the impending auction, Baum, who is also an executive at Bozzuto, said he does not regret backing the 2007 renovation, saying it enhances the community considerably.

"You go there today and there's a beautiful theater there and it wasn't there six years ago. I think that it'll continue to be an asset for the community for years."

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