The oldest operating movie house in the Washington, DC region, the Avalon Theater has been a cornerstone of its community since its opening in 1923. After the theatre was abruptly closed in 2001, a grassroots effort by the newly formed Avalon Theater Project successfully restored the historic theatre and it reopened in 2003.
The Avalon screens a diverse selection of films that includes its Wednesday Signature Series, first-run studio films, independent and foreign films, and special programs for students, children, and seniors. It proudly celebrates both its 100th birthday and 20 years as a community-centered nonprofit in 2023.
The non-profit, historic Avalon Theatre is a 100-year-old community-supported film center in Chevy Chase that entertains, educates, and inspires the people of metropolitan Washington, DC through the magic of cinema.
The Avalon Theatre was originally named the Chevy Chase Theatre when it opened in 1923 to show the silent films of the time. The large auditorium seated 1,200, it now seats 450 and a large pipe organ provided musical accompaniment. The Avalon changed owners several times over the decades, and the building was regularly renovated and redecorated.
Some of the more significant changes included wiring the theatre for sound in 1929 after becoming a Warner Brothers’ neighborhood theatre, installation of air conditioning in the late 1930s, construction of the upstairs 200-seat theatre “Avalon 2” in 1970, and the painting of a striking ceiling mural in the large auditorium in 1985.
The Avalon Theatre Project was incorporated as a nonprofit organization in November 2001, and with fundraising help from foundations, the D.C. 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 theatre building in 2006; a capital campaign raised money for necessary infrastructure improvements as well as a much-needed elevator. Conversion from 35mm projection to digital projection was completed in 2013. Most recently, in 2023 the Avalon Theater celebrated both its Centennial anniversary and 20 years as a community nonprofit. With the enduring support of its neighbors and friends, the Avalon will continue to be a rich and vital cultural resource for the neighborhood and the D. C. metro area.
When the Avalon Theatre brain trust decided to celebrate the movie house’s 100-year anniversary by showing a beloved film from each decade that the Northwest Washington fixture has been open, its historical committee began a painstaking process: logging every movie it could prove had graced the theatre’s screens. That undertaking has involved sifting through archived movie listings, logging the films in a sprawling spreadsheet of 4,000-plus and counting and organizing them by decade.
To choose the centennial selections, the theatre’s programming committee then whittles down each decade to around 10 films, ruling out some movies because of incompatible screening formats or others because they don’t hold up under modern scrutiny. A deliberation and vote narrowed that list to two films and, finally, one winner.
After considering a film festival to mark the 100-year anniversary, the Avalon went forward with the 100 Years of Cinema Magic screenings typically held at 10:30 a.m. on the third Sunday of the month, all year long. The Avalon also is releasing video vignettes, called Avalon Memories, in which longtime patrons speak about their love for the theatre.
And the Avalon’s annual fundraising gala was reimagined this year as a centennial celebration: The theatre will host a dinner and show on May 6 featuring the 1924 Buster Keaton film Sherlock Jr., with a new, live musical accompaniment composed by Catholic University professor Andrew Earle Simpson. If you’re a film and theatre lover, this would be the perfect opportunity to indulge in an opportunity of film entertainment and discovery over a period of 100 years.