BB&T buys back landmark Bethesda Theatre at foreclosure auction for $2 million

By Stephanie Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The foreclosure auction of the landmark Bethesda Theatre drew no outside bids Tuesday, signaling that the cultural landmark might be on its last run.

BB&T bought back the live-performance venue on Wisconsin Avenue for $2 million. No external bidders came forward.

The property must "be used for cinema or performing arts use," according to the terms of the auction. The bank and the Bethesda Cultural Alliance, which owns the property, will decide what to do with it.

About two dozen people, including journalists and community members, turned out for the sale. The site, which underwent a $12 million renovation three years ago, has almost 700 seats, a concession stand, a box office and a marquee. It made its debut in 1938 as an art deco movie house.

Despite recent efforts to keep the theater alive, its owners defaulted on the mortgage when the economy took a downturn.

Sitting in the audience Tuesday was Ron Isaksen of Silver Spring, who designed the back kitchen in the late 1990s, when the venue was known as the Bethesda Theatre Cafe.

He used to take his sons there to watch films at least once a week, he said.

"It's a great spot. I hope it does something like this again," Isaksen said. "There's nothing like this in Montgomery County."

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