The Avalon Theatre has been a cornerstone of northwest Washington, D.C. since the theater opened in February 1923. In April 2003, the Avalon became a nonprofit theater operated by The Avalon Theatre Project. As an independent, nonprofit theater, the Avalon offers exciting and diverse programming that includes outstanding first-run commercial films, independent and foreign films, documentaries, film festivals, and special programs for families and seniors. The Avalon Café opened in April 2009 in one of the theater’s retail spaces and enhances the movie-going experience with our gourmet food and beverages.
The Early Years
The Avalon Theatre was originally named the Chevy Chase Theatre and was built to show the silent films of the time. The large auditorium seated 1,200 (it now seats 450), and musical accompaniment came from a large pipe organ. The theater would have had significantly greater seating capacity had plans for a balcony been completed. The second floor space was instead occupied for many years by the Chevy Chase School of Music and later a ballet studio. The theater was also flanked by two retail spaces that were rented to a variety of neighborhood businesses. After the advent of the “talkies”, the theater was “wired for sound” in 1929. The theater also became one of the Warner Brothers neighborhood theaters in 1929, and its name was changed to the Avalon.
The Avalon changed owners several times in the next eighty years, and the building was regularly renovated and redecorated. Some of the more significant architectural and structural changes included the installation of air conditioning in the late 1930’s, the construction in 1970 of a second 200 seat theater, Avalon 2, in the upstairs space that had been occupied by the dance studio, and the creation of the striking ceiling mural in the large auditorium in 1985. The last commercial owners declared bankruptcy in 2001, and they closed the theater and stripped the building of its seats and projection equipment.
The Avalon Theatre Project
Neighborhood support was strongly in favor of preserving the theater following its closure in 2001. Many of the original movie theaters in Washington had been demolished or converted to retail use, and the Avalon neighbors feared the same would happen to their theater. The Avalon Theatre Project was incorporated as a nonprofit organization in November 2001, and with fundraising help from foundations, D.C. city government and many individuals, restoration of the building began in October 2002. The Avalon reopened to great excitement on April 23, 2003.
The Avalon Theatre Project purchased the theater building in 2006 and recently completed a capital campaign to raise money for necessary infrastructure improvements as well as an elevator to Avalon 2, the second floor theater. Programming continues to develop with the best of a wide range of commercial and independent movies, film festivals, and special events. With continuing support of its neighbors and friends, the Avalon will continue to be a rich and vital cultural resource for the neighborhood and the metro D. C. area.