Looking for a movie theater? Go west.
West to Connecticut Avenue, that is. Of the 25 movie theaters in the District, 18 are west of Connecticut Avenue.
That leaves four general audience movie theaters in the rest of the city -- one each on Capitol Hill, in Adams-Morgan, Southwest and east of the Anacostia River.
The city also has three theaters that show only X-rated movies.
There are no general audience theaters left in downtown, once the address of some of the city's most opulent movie houses. In 1960 the city had 54 theaters, one in almost every city neighborhood. By 1975 that number had dropped to 30. The reduction is solely the result of the systematic closing of neighborhood theaters.
"It would help to have more theaters out this way," said Dick Dacy, co-owner of the Senator Theater at 3950 Minnesota Ave. NE, east of the Anacostia River. "But operators are not going to come until the various retail areas in Southeast and Northeast build up to a good level.
"The pulse of the film business right now is in Georgetown and Wisconsin Avenue where they're building new theaters," said Dacy, who also owns the Capitol Hill I and II, 507 Eighth St. SE."It's going to be some time before other areas become attractive to people building theaters."
Marvin Goldman, the coowner of the K-B theater chain, agreed.
"It's just a matter of time before the Capitol Hill and Adams-Morgan area neighborhoods attract theater development," Goldman said. "Any decision at this time is economic . . . in the case of Capitol Hill and Adams-Morgan.
"Five years ago it would have been feasible to come in and build theaters, but you would have starved to death," Goldman said.
"Now the landlords want so much more money along with the fact that the District government won't help out with the parking . . . . It's difficult to find a site that will allow you to be profitable."
David Simon, a spokesman for the city's Office of Business and Economic Develoment said, "We are encouraging developers to look at the inclusion of theaters as a part of their package. But there's nothing going on in the neighborhoods at the moment. A developer is going to bring four screens to L'Enfant Plaza in Southwest shortly and we are helping him out with $75,000 through our Revolving Loan Program."
Theater owners cited two major reasons for the demise of the neighborhood theaters -- the migration of whites to the suburbs in the 1950s, and citywide economic downturn in the aftermath of the 1968 riots.
Industry sources say the return of the middle class to some city neighborhoods during the 1970s has brought with it the return of movie theaters to areas such as Capitol Hill, Adams-Morgan and the West End, which is south of Dupont Circle between New Hampshire Avenue and Georgetown.
"It is just not possible to go in some transitional area and wait for the area to solidify economically," Goldman said. "I can definitely see theaters being built in the 14th and U Streets area because the city government center is going to be there and that will bring development." H Street NE is also a potential market for the same reason, he said, "and in the distant future I can even see the big downtown pleasure palaces coming back.
"Basically everything that existed before will come back in the city, but it's going to happen in terms of current merchandising strategies."
With the closing earlier this year of the Town Theatre at New York Avenue and 14th Street NW, the last of Washington's big downtown theaters for general audiences departed the scene. Downtown's only remaining film outlets are the X-rated movies at the Casino Royal, 806 14th St. NW and the Gayety, 508 9th St. NW.
The first-run theater located nearest to downtown is the K-B Fine Arts at 1919 M Streets NW near the Connecticut Avenue and K Street office district that has become the new downtown.
Some of the old neighborhood theaters such as the Beverly at 15th and F Streets NE, the Penn, 650 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, the Apex at 4813 Massachusetts Ave. NW, and the Booker T., 1433 U St. NW, have been torn down and replaced with new developments.
Other theaters have new uses, such as the Langston at 2501 Benning Rd. NE, which is now a church, and the Sylvan Theater, 104 Rhode Island NW, which was once an antiques store. But most are boarded up.
"They really took something away from the city when they began closing up the movie houses," said Jim Pinnix, 37, a D.C. native who works on Capitol Hill and lives in Northwest. "I can still remember seeing my first movie when I was eight at the Art Academy on Eighth Street SE, and I have memories of seeing movies all over town -- at the Alamo, the Warner, the Tivoli, the Sylvan and the MacArthur. A while ago I thought I would go back and try to see a movie at every place, just to say I'd done it, but also to recapture my childhood. Now it's too late, and that makes me sad."
Dallas Richardson, 63, an FBI employe fondly recalled the Loew's Capitol, at 1326 F St. NW.
"It held about 3,400 people and had beautiful decorations," he said. "It was a real experience to go there and watch the movies, the stage show and hear Art Brown play the Wurlitzer which came out of the floor on a hydraulic lift. Nowadays the theaters do offer a lot of variety, but you're sitting in a two by four room with no decorations. That's just about the way movies were at the turn of the century. Maybe that's progress but I don't like it."
Darryl LaChappelle, 33, who lives with his wife Patricia in an apartment complex at Eastern Avenue and Sheriff Road, NE, said, "I'd just like to see some affordable entertainment in D.C. There are no more theaters downtown, and it's too much of a hassle to go to Georgetown on the weekend. We almost always wind up going to Landover for movies."
In the meantime, new theaters are continuing to spring up in Georgetown and the neighboring West End. By Christmas 13 new theaters are scheduled to open in these areas including a seven-screen complex at the Foundry Mall in Georgetown, plus a three-unit facility at Mazza Galleria at Wisconsin and Western Avenues NW, in Friendship Heights.
In Georgetown, Key Theater owner David Levy plans an addition atop his present building at 1222 Wisconsin Ave. NW, which will contain three theaters; and the Circle chain has a three-screen facility slated for upper Wisconsin Avenue to be ready late next year.
"At some point when the theater builders have pretty much exhausted Wisconsin Avenue and other areas they'll start looking at the rest of the city, Dacy said, "but there's no commercial incentive for them at the moment."