Tuesday, July 15, 2008

D.C. represent!

The Town. The Penn. The Langston. The Highland. The Tivoli.

Those were movie theaters in Washington, D.C., back when I was growing up in the 1970s.

Actually, they were on their last legs then... showing horror movies and blaxploitation and stuff. By the mid-’80s, they were out of business. Closed down.

Isn’t there something sad and ghostly about a boarded-up movie house?

Below is a 5-minute film made in 1984 by John Heyn. (Uploaded to the internets by my friend Jeff Krulik.) It is an elegy to D.C.’s once-vibrant cinema houses.

One was the Atlas on H Street in Northeast. Which is where I saw “Buck and the Preacher” and a Godzilla flick.

If you have any memories to share of these old D.C. theaters, I’d like to hear them. As well as any news about these buildings being put to use nowadays.

20 comments:

DeAngelo Starnes said...

Dave, there was theatre over on Columbia Road in Adams Morgan. A couple blocks off of 16th. Right by some apartment buildings. I think it's a flea market now. Saw a few flicks there during my days at HU. Recall seeing She's Gotta Have It there.

That theatre over on Connecticut Ave (I am drawing blanks tonight) is still going strong. Two level joint. I love that spot! Saw quite a few flicks there.

Phil Deeze said...

Deangelo,
You're talking about the Ontario. Columbia Road and Ontario NW. As a teenager, I saw too old school classics there during the 1980's: "The Last Dragon" and "Purple Rain."
There was another old school theatre with a mezzanine in Chevy Chase DC where my friends all used to have jobs. We'd go see movies there all the time back in the day. It wasn't the Uptown. Help me out, somebody.

Phil Deeze said...

Deangelo,
Found it! The theatre near Chevy Chase Circle was called The Avalon. Old school.

Undercover Black Man said...

DeAngelo, I occasionally pop in on the Uptown when I'm back in D.C.

But all the ones in the black neighborhoods shut down.

I saw most of my movies as a kid in P.G. County, where my sister lived. The Jerry Lewis Cinemas... got my "Towering Inferno" on...

The ghetto theaters I mainly remember from the newspaper movie listings. The Senator was another one...

Phil Deeze said...

UBM,
Since you did the PG thang, remember that theatre on New Hampshire Avenue called "The Allen?" I saw "Porky's" there as a kid and there was NOBODY in that mofo that was of age. Mass hysteria.
I think one of those old theatres is right across Ben Ali Alley from Ben's Chili Bowl, but the name escapes me. The building is still there, and I do remember it being open back in the 1980's for various events.
But you're right: it seems like most of the old theatres in the black neighborhoods in DC are pretty much gone.

Undercover Black Man said...

Since you did the PG thang, remember that theatre on New Hampshire Avenue called "The Allen?"

I do remember the Allen, but for a fucked-up reason: there was an adult bookstore in an adjacent strip mall.

I was a bit too into the pr0n in the 1980s.

Lola Gets said...

Theres one huge, large, single-screen theater on Connecticut Avenue, I believe its the Uptown. I saw that move about Steven Biko there in the 80s. I also spent some, ahem, "quality time" in the balcony with my boyfriend whilst we were supposed to be watching "The Name of the Rose." Don't be mad at me, it was my second time seeing it!

L

eeaster said...

The Atlas has been revived. It's a theater again, but live theater and it also houses The Rock & Roll Hotel, a cooler revamping of sorts of the old 9:30 club on F Street in terms of who it books. It's name for the 9 themed rooms that you can hold parties in when events are there.

It's the center of "The Atlas District" - the newly lively H Street NE, which is the new hang for the cool kids. About 10 new restaurants and bars, all owned by Joe Englert, the cat that used to own The Big Hunt, 15 Minutes (remember that joint) and The Insect Club (even ore short lived). Still sketchy and still some black owned barber shops, chicken joints and sneaker places hanging on.

Avalon is gone after an attempt to buy it by the residents. Now an ice crea, store I think. The Penn on 13th is now the Museum for Women in the Arts. The Tivoli is back open, but now holds the Hispanic GALA Theater and is the center of a really revived 14th & Park Road that now has a Giant, a Target, loft condos and a Best Buy.

The Circle that used to run repertory is gone for good, as is the Biograph in Georgetown.

Undercover Black Man said...

^ Thanks, Eric. The Atlas is a hip spot now? That blows my mind. I still remember H Street up in flames in 1968. Only took 40 years to bounce back. :^(

Geneva Girl said...

It's the same sad story in Philly. All of the theaters in black neighborhoods are boarded up. I'm sad every time I drive by the Capitol on 52nd St. It was where I boohooed to A Warm December, and was scared by Blackula.

One of my fondest(?) memories was going there with my father and all of the sudden the fire door opened and people started running out of the theater. I never found out what happened because my dad threw me on the sticky, never-been-swept floor and covered me with his body. When it all died down, we sat back down and watched the rest of the movie. After all, he'd paid his money to see a show, "not some n-words running wild!"

eeaster said...

H Street in my estimation is the most dramatic living example of gentrification anywhere I know right now in terms of the black/white divide, old business/new business, conflicts in tastes, high home prices but still high crime etc..

A really interesting blog (frozentropics.blogspot.com) had followed its delicate renewal in words and pictures for five years now and it's absolutely fascinating.

fishesalot said...

The good ole days. In the 50's thru the 70's I saw "2001 Space Oddessy" at the Highland on Penn Ave SE; "A Fist Full of Dollars" at the Booker-T; "Soylent Green","Night of The Living Dead", "Pit and the Pendulum" at the RKO in downtown DC; and many more at movies in DC/PG.

Nice video.

Peace

Undercover Black Man said...

^ The Booker T.! That's another one I remember from the newspaper ads.

Des said...

genevagirl,

I had a very similar experience at The Met (http://www.kilduffs.com/MEA.html) in Baltimore. Somebody dropped something from the balcony, everyone began scurrying for the exits. My mom grabbed my sister and I ducked off into a corner under the balcony and uttered a phrase eerily similar to your dad's.

dnA said...

The Tivoli is rebuilt and now sits across from a "Vitamin Shoppe" and a Target.

progress?

Anonymous said...

I am a DC native and I too have fond memories of ther movie houses I spent Sunday afternoons after church.Three in paricular.The Senator on minnisota avenue where I spent more weekends than I can count. Its now a beauty supply store. It did have a brief stint as a movie theater about 10years ago. The Langston on beinning road and there was another on on marlbough pike which is a huge church now. Heres one for the really old schoolers. On marobough pike was one of two drive in theaters in the area. The other only showed x rated movies and a hugh bill board had to placed just right so you couldn't see the screen as you drove down cental avenue.

fishesalot said...

Anon,
The Corral theater used to sit on the corner of Southern Ave and Marlboro Pike, right on the DC/MD line, it became a big church in the 70's.

I used to live near the Senator for a minute as a kid, went there all the time. Used to be a Little Tavern right next door to it beside the Benning Rd bridge, and a McBrides across the street. McBrides, ...you gotta a lot for the money but man what a stigma.

Peace

Undercover Black Man said...

^ Aw shoot... don't get me going on Little Taverns! I think the last one standing was in Wheaton, up by Chuck Levin's. Finally bit the dust maybe 10 years ago?

There was also a McBride's on H Street. I remember it well.

fishesalot said...

Man, I pounded down more than my share of Little Tavern burgers and bacon/egg sandwiches, still love um. I used to hit the one next to Chucks on Viers Mill all the time, I also pigged out at the Tavern on Penn and Minnesota Ave SE quite a bit after hours. But that was when I wasn't splurging on pizza at Marios on 25th st SE, you ever been there? Loved that smack so much I almost got shot trying to get that shizzit one very late night - pathetic.

Believe it or not Chucks used to be on H St years ago and he got burned out during the 68 riots. Dude had a boatload of cheap stuff insured for big bucks and used the money to move to Wheaton. Go figure.

Peace

Joanne said...

Anon,
The Corral theater used to sit on the corner of Southern Ave and Marlboro Pike, right on the DC/MD line, it became a big church in the 70's.
I used to live near the Senator for a minute as a kid, went there all the time. Used to be a Little Tavern right next door to it beside the Benning Rd bridge, and a McBrides across the street. McBrides, ...you gotta a lot for the money but man what a stigma.
--------------------------
I probably know you! One point of clarification. The Coral Hills Movie theatre (that's where I saw Buck and the Preacher) definitely DID NOT become a big church in the 70's. It MAY have been mid-to late 80's. I remember it sitting empty for a while--probably early 80's before becoming a church. But you were on point with the Senator, McBrides and Little Tavern. You forgot the Hub furniture store on Benning Road by the U8 Benning Hts bus stop! Memories!!