Another one bites the dust.
The Cineplex Odeon Janus 3 theater in Dupont Circle closed this week -- the third city movie house to go dark in the last year, the ninth if you count back to the mid-1990s or so.
Some Washington moviegoers affectionately called it the "heinous Janus" because of its cramped seating and the appalling presence of an obstructing pole in the middle of seats facing one of the three screens. The theater was crammed into the ground floor of a tired glass office building.
Yet since its days as an independent theater in the 1960s with its own film club and midnight showings of far-out experimental films, the Janus found a spot in the hearts of D.C. cinephiles. It was not an art house, but it mixed surprises with the usual fare.
"Invariably whenever there was something you wanted to see, it was in the heinous Janus," said Anne Corbett, executive director of the D.C. Cultural Development Corp.
The last four films for the final Janus audiences Monday included "Hollywood Ending."
The Janus's demise certainly was a Washington ending, given recent local theater history. "Closed," the Janus marquee at Connecticut Avenue and R Street NW suddenly announced, just like the marquee at the Foundry in Georgetown two months ago. The historic Avalon went dark farther up Connecticut in March 2001. All three showed their last films on a Monday night.
And all three were shuttered by New York-based Loews Cineplex Entertainment. The chain filed for bankruptcy protection last year and emerged from bankruptcy this year, closing more than 100 theaters nationwide in the process.
"We just kind of evaluated where the marketplace was and where to position ourselves going forward," Loews marketing vice president John McCauley said yesterday.
Loews is a successor company to Cineplex Odeon, which itself closed several D.C. theaters in the last decade. Loews still owns several other cinemas in town, including the Inner Circle, the Wisconsin Avenue Cinemas and the Dupont Circle. McCauley said there are no plans to close those, though their business strength will be reviewed.
But maybe city moviegoers will get a Hollywood ending after all: McCauley said Loews is on track to open 14 screens by Thanksgiving as part of a new development at Wisconsin Avenue and K Street NW in Georgetown.
United Artists has signed a contract to open 14 screens by the 2003 holiday season in the Gallery Place complex under construction at H and Seventh streets NW, said Tom Wilbur, senior vice president with the developer the John Akridge Cos.
And developers of Lincoln Square on E Street NW between 10th and 11th are talking to potential exhibitors about six screens, according to downtown sources.
On the art-house front, the Key and Biograph are gone, but the Visions Cinema/Bistro/Lounge on Florida Avenue near 19th Street NW opened in the last two years to provide edgier fare. The largest recent art-house investment is up the Red Line in Bethesda, where Landmark Theatres just opened an eight-screen art cinema.
Meanwhile, Bob Zich, chair of the insurgent movement to save the Avalon, said yesterday that his Avalon Theatre Project has raised $55,000 and is assembling backers who are committed to meeting a June 21 deadline to present property owner Doug Jemal with a business plan.
"For every unit that Loews seems to be closing, there's other new interest coming in," says Corbett of the Cultural Development Corp., a nonprofit devoted to arts.
The Janus was opened in 1965 by John Louis Field and Hugh N. Jacobsen, according to the book "Motion Picture Exhibition in Washington, D.C." by Robert K. Headley. Back then, with two screens for 153 seats and 180 seats, the Janus was known as one of the first twin theaters built in Washington, according to Headley. The Janus Film Society showed avant-garde films at midnight Saturdays and noon Sundays. Eventually, the theater was absorbed into the Cineplex Odeon chain.
"I will say the Janus was not the best theater in the world," said Vince Micone, advisory neighborhood commissioner in Dupont Circle. "But it's really disappointing to lose any theater, especially that one, since it showed more limited-release films. That attracted a lot of people from our neighborhood and to our neighborhood.
"I know there are big-screen TVs bigger than those screens, but it was nice to have in the neighborhood."
Staff writer Desson Howe contributed to this report.