Wednesday, July 28, 2010

West End To Get Independent Movie Theater At Former Site Of The Inner Circle


For D.C. film nerds and pseudo-intellectual George Washington University students in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, the Washington-based Circle Theater chain was an oasis of obscure, independent, foreign, and cult films and documentaries; and may be so again in just a few months. Built in 1911, the original Circle Theater at 2105 Pennsylvania Avenue stood as the oldest film venue in the District for almost ninety years. To the chagrin of $1 matinee frequenters, it was demolished in the late '80s to make way for a 12-story office complex. Although its various sister-theaters (Circle West End 1-4, later the Inner Circle 1-4, as well as Inner Circle 5-7) held on to life for some years after, they were subsequently bought and sold, each now demolished or out of operation for several years. But luckily for those Washingtonians nostalgic for the art-house film chain, the one remaining venue unscathed by wrecking balls will be resuscitated and reopened this fall. Josh Levin, a New York film producer and distributor has leased the building formerly housing Inner Circle 5-7, and has plans in the works to reopen the venue as the West End Theater.

Circle Theaters first expanded to include the West End property (1101 23rd Street NW) on August 17, 1977. In 1985 the chain amassed another property just a block north at 2301 M Street NW, a three auditorium venue that sat 94, 78, and 55 people. This theater became the Inner Circle 5-7, and later simply the Inner Circle when the Inner Circle 1-4 was torn down to build the Ritz Carlton residences (adjacent to the hotel).


The movie house has not shown a film since 2003, but that will change soon, as the property is set to become the new West End Theater. A few seats will be subtracted from each of the three viewing rooms, in order to make the venue a bit roomier and classier, but of course without losing the intimate feel. The cinematic repertoire will remain much the same, showing "first-run independent films, art house, documentary, and remastered classic films." No significant structural changes are needed as the venue "still has the projector systems, platters, sound systems, screens, seats and concessions line exactly where they were when the theater closed in late 2003, early 2004," according to Levin. Going inside to discover the eerily but cleanly foresaken theater was a bit "like a science fiction film," Levin told the West End Friends, "where the humans have been erased but everything else remains."

While the multiplex is not equipped with a kitchen, Levin plans to serve salads and sandwiches in addition to traditional theater snacks - think Jujyfruits and popcorn. He is also pursuing a full liquor license to serve beer and wine, with the hope of offering cocktails as well. Levin presented his plans to the ANC last week, and an application should go before Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) shortly. There seems to be some apprehension from some members of ANC2A concerning small details of the liquor license, but no serious roadblocks stand in the way of Levin's plans - ABRA is well-known for its strong pro-business tendencies.

Even though major renovation is unnecessary, the interior will be refitted to some extent: the seats will be replaced, as will the drapes, the bathrooms redone, and lighting fixtures updated. "A luxury screening room setting with plush leather seats and real food and drinks," is Levin's aim. On July 21st, Josh confirmed his business intentions via the internet, assuring film geeks on the website Cinema Treasures (dedicated to iconic movie houses) that West End Circle Theater would soon be moved from the "old listings" to the "new listings."

The architect of the original Circle Theatre was A.B. Mallett & Co/Luther Ray. Ray was well known during his time as a designer of restaurants and commercial store fronts, and also did considerable business producing large porcelain enamel signage for local businesses. Pictured right is an old rendering of the design for Hahn Shoes (located at Seventh and K Streets NW) drawn by Luther Ray. Although the Art Deco styling of the Circle Theater was faded and crumbling by the time obscure foreign films like the Italian classic Bicycle Theives or Ladri di Biciclette (1948) made its way onto the reels, the theater remained a film-buff favorite for over two decades. Jim and Ted Pedas took over the cinema in 1957 as local law students and ambitious film-enthusiasts. Their repertory cinema venture was so successful, they not only expanded into a chain operation, but also founded Circle Films, an independent film production company. The brothers along with two other business partners produced many of the Coen brothers early cult favorites, including: Blood Simple (1984), Raising Arizona (1987), Miller's Crossing (1990), and Barton Fink (1991).

Washington D.C. Real Estate Development News

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

That's a lovely "rending" of "Hahn's" Shoes. So many sics...

Brooks Butler Hays on Jul 28, 2010, 11:48:00 AM said...

if by sics you mean "mistakes" i'm pretty sure you found the only one, and it's now fixed. if by sics you mean brackets [like this], then i'm confused, because they're non-existent in this article

Anonymous said...

This was a great read!

John on Jul 28, 2010, 2:42:00 PM said...

Thanks for the info! Super excited about this, your articles are great brooks.

Nicole Skarpness on Jul 28, 2010, 4:15:00 PM said...

Thanks, Brooks, great read. I'm excited for this new indie theatre, sounds like it should be a hit with the trendy & intellectual DC filmgoers. Hopefully Levin will get the liquor license- it’d be great for business. It would be like a retro Movie Tavern with better films…Very exciting.

Chris in Eckington said...

This is VERY welcome news. With the closure of Dupont's three movie theaters, this will be the only place to catch a flick between Penn Quarter and Georgetown.

PS I saw Spaceballs at this theater back in the day, and Titanic at it's sister theater where the Ritz Carlton now sits.

Anonymous said...

It wasn't Hahn's Shoes; it was Hahn Shoes, or Hahns. Kind of like you had Woodies or Woodward & Lothrop, but not Woodwards & Lothrop, or Woodward & Lothrops, etc. This is petty and pedantic, but if you wish to be considered a careful writer, you need to pay attention to detail.

Anonymous said...

Why no mention of the Outer Circle on upper Wisconsin Ave.? I'm pretty sure it was run by the same company, and I believe it lasted a couple of years longer than the Inner Circle.

Brooks Butler Hays on Jul 29, 2010, 3:26:00 PM said...

you're correct anon, the outer circle was run by the pedas brothers also, it only had two showing rooms, and lasted only several months longer than the inner circle. both closed 03/04. the outer circle was demolished in 07. i mean't to lead on that there were unmentioned theaters, but i probably should have mentioned the outer. another fact not in the story: circle theaters were sold by the pedas brothers to toronto-based cineplex odeon for 45 million dollars.

Anonymous said...

Interesting article, but it is better that you should ask permission first before using copyrighted photos from our website, and not attributing quotations. Editor, The West End
Flyer.

Brooks Butler Hays on Aug 10, 2010, 11:37:00 PM said...

have removed the one photo originally from your site, i had taken it from a google image search, did not pay close attention to it's origin, i apologize. the other looks as if it was from your site, but is actually a screen shot i took myself using google map street view. seeing as i drew quotes from other online post's and from levin himself (his online postings) as well as your article, and added new information, i assumed the fair use standard applied here and credit was unwarranted. but i have sense augmented the article to link back to your work. would have preferred to speak with levin himself, but he failed to return numerous phone calls, messages, and e-mails.

 

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