ON A RECENT SATURDAY evening, we were pleasantly surprised to find that the Takoma Theatre was again open for business. The Takoma isn't one of the District's better-known movie houses; it sits on the corner of 4th and Butternut streets NW., a block from the tide of commuter traffic. Built 50 years ago at a time when movie houses tried to emulate the glamor on their screens, the Takoma was known for its domed roof, lattice-worked loudspeakers, curlicued plaques and hidden orchestra pit. It was part of the community then, a family place. But with the changing times, pornographic and exploitation films discouraged attendance, attracted vandals and resulted in the theatre's closing its doors.
Now, however, thanks to the enthusiasm of a group of Takoma neighborhood residents, the theatre has been renovated and is open for weekend business. The residents have formed the Neighborhood Film Association, a non-profit group that leases the theatre from the K-B movie chain and, through private donations and ticket sales, tries to keep it going. They offer double features on Friday and Saturday evenings, a Saturday children's matinee, special shows for school classes and festive events like medieval jousting tournaments and Dixieland band concerts.
The revitalization of the Takoma Theatre is more than a sentimental attempt to save an old movie house. It is an example of the kind of commercial activity that residents want to revive in their area. The Takoma section of Washington is noted for its older frame and brick houses, set back from quiet, tree-lined sidewalks. It is the kind of neighborhood where youngsters play in front streets and oldsters relax on porches. Many of the residents know one another, and they take pride in living in one of the most racially and economically mixed parts of town.
But Takoma has a commercial area that has fallen into disrepair. Located only a few blocks from a Metro station, that commercial strip is sure to be a target of land speculators. Residents are anxious to attract business to the area - but not the high-rise developments that often spring up around subway stops. They hope that an active Takoma Theatre will demonstrate to restaurants, bookstores, markets and other shops that there is a market for them in the area.
This approach to community renewal is unusual - and commendable. Too often, those who oppose a high-rise commercial development simply fight to stop it. They rarely start their own business to show what could best serve the neighborhood. That's what the people in Takoma have done.