This isn’t D.C.’s first movie theater boom.
In the early 1900s, about 55 new theaters opened in the District, most of them featuring just one small screen and hundreds of seats. Many of the shows featured live bands or orchestras because the films didn’t have any sound until the late 1920s.
Once “talkies” debuted in the late 1920s another boom occurred. By 1930 there were 10 cinemas along 9th Street NW between Pennsylvania Avenue and Rhode Island Avenue. Soon larger theaters with multiple screens began opening across the city,
Hundreds of the old city theaters closed as people moved to the suburbs in the 60s and 70s, where drive-ins and then massive shopping mall multi-plexes took over.
Now, like so many other shops and businesses, the movie theaters are returning to the city and close-in suburbs. The latest is Landmark Theatres, which specializes in independent and foreign films and already has an eight-screen cinema on E Street in Penn Quarter and another in Bethesda.
Landmark announced last week that it would open a 10-screen cinema at the corner of New York Avenue and N Street NE, in the NoMa neighborhood behind Union Station. The 31,000-square-foot theater will be part of a mixed-use project by the JBG Cos. called Capitol Point and should open in the fall of 2016.
“We are dedicated to increasing our footprint in the Washington, D.C. market,” said Ted Mundorff, Landmark’s president and chief executive.
Other theater operators big and small are looking to expand locally as well. A 16-screen, 2,000-seat theater by Showplace Icon will open two blocks east of Nationals Park, in a development by Forest City Washington. The independently run West End Cinema opened in 2010 at 23rd and M streets, in the former Inner Circle Theatre, which closed in 2004. NoMa gave movie-goers a taste of what’s to come with drive-in shows at Union Market and outdoor movies put on by the business improvement district.
With the newest boom in full swing researchers at the Washington D.C. Economic Partnership, an economic development group funded by the District, looked up the history of all the city’s theaters and mapped the sites where they were located.
The resulting map shows 116 total cinemas, playhouses and theaters, some of the entirely movie-focused and others with multi-uses. Theaters that closed and have been demolished are in red. Theaters that closed but were in buildings that are still standing are in blue. Existing theaters are in green.
In the future, there are two D.C. movie theater developments to watch. The first is whether movie theaters will begin to return to more neighborhoods as the city’s population and wealth increases. Note there are no theaters north of Columbia Heights east of Rock Creek Park and only one (at the Atlas Performing Arts Center) in all of Northeast. Will theaters want to open in Walter Reed or Brookland, or along H Street Northeast? There is also only one small theater east of the Anacostia River, the Anacostia Playhouse.
The second thing to watch is how one might re-use former movie theaters or cinemas, of which the Economic Partnership identified about 45. Some of them are now leased by CVS or Subway, but Tommy Hilfiger, a Nike Store and even Ben’s Chili Bowl are all in former theater buildings.
Follow Jonathan O’Connell on Twitter: @oconnellpostbiz