The Senator movie house in Northeast Washington was resurrected last month, revived by zealous community residents anxious to pump life into their struggling commercial sector.
With the reopening of the theater, Ward 7 residents will have family movies available locally for the first time in seven years.
Shut down by vandalism, the black, inner-city, family theater at 3950 Minnesota Ave. NE was reopened Nov. 30 under a unique agreement reached by the District government, theater management and neighbors.
Under the agreement, Rudolph Johnson Jr., who leases the property from K-B Theaters, has agreed not to show X-rated or sexually explicit films.
A community review board will be formed to screen all films. The board will include a Sixth District police sergeant, a minister, an advisory neighborhood commissioner and various civic leaders.
Johnson hired Southeast businessman Perrin Carr Jr. and Leland Nelson, both Northeast residents, to manage the day-to-day operations of the theater. Neighbors will help monitor conduct, and management will have the right "to eject from the premises those persons who persist in disorderly conduct, (including drinking, fighting, destruction of property," the agreement says.
The agreement came after a week-long dispute that closed the reopened theater for three days and threatened its future.
The theater originally reopened on Nov. 23 with the premiere of "Tongue," an X-rated, black film billed as "sex with soul." Johnson -- the producer of the film -- said he scheduled it to help recoup production costs. Former business associates had assured him, he said, that Northeast neighbors and city government would not object to the film.
But neighbors protested immediately and city officials temporarily revoked Johnson's license for showing an X-rated movie in a restricted commerical zone.
Following the signing of the agreement, "Tongue," was replaced by "Treasure Island," and two R-rated horrow shows for which tickets were sold at a cost of $2 for children and $3 for adults to see.
Last week, flanked by neighborhood residents gathered outside the theater, Ward 7 council member Willie Hardy assured the theater management that the movie house was now there to stay.
"Now that we have such a good agreement, we're on the right road," Hardy said enthusiastically. "We're working together and we will support the theater. We want it and need it."
As Hardy spoke, a few neighbors in the crowd eagerly requested a showing of "Star Trek."
"Put 'star Trek' on the (film) list. Put pressure on him for 'Star Trek,'" a neighbor piped up.
Nathaniel Todd, a Northeast resident who joined other community members in picketing the theater before its focus changed, said, "It's my personal feeling that the community will support the respectable movies."
Commenting on the appeal of rock movies, like "The Rose" and Saturday Night Fever," Todd said, "The kids today are rock fans and disco fans and they go where those things are."
In previous years, the Senator was one of 75 District theaters -- and 11 black theaters -- that rocked with the showing of first-run musicals and realistic dramas being turned out by Hollywood.
Over the years, 38 of the movie houses succumbed to a combination of urban flight, a downturn in movie-making and television. Black areas, like Ward 7 with its potpourri of low- and moderate-income housing and large youth populations, were most severely hit.
After the riots of the late '60s, movie theaters fled black, inner-city neighborhoods all across the country, Johnson noted. A native of Trenton, N.J., Johnson said he has lived and produced films in Europe for the past 25 years and currently lives in Paris.
Johnson plans to reopen 10 inner-city theaters in major black communities across the U.S. in cities such as New York, Chicago and Cleveland. He said the business venture is backed by his wealthy, French wife Jacqueline -- a tall, elegant woman who stood nearby wrapped in a full-length mink coat.
Referring to movie houses as "community centers," Johnson said, the Senator "is the most important thing in the city. Close up a center and you can close up the whole area."
Gerald Evans, Johnson's business associate, said the reopening of the other theaters is dependent on the financial success of the Senator.
More than $50,000 in renovation has been spent on the theater to put on a new roof, repair the boiler and recover some of the seats, Evans said.