Sunday, December 6, 2009

fire destroys former 50's-era theater in takoma park (updated)

UPDATE: the Montgomery County Fire Department says the Allen Theater will be razed. "Three of the walls were still standing . . . they were eventually knocked down," says Capt. Oscar Garcia. "Essentially, the building is going to be demolished."

Allen Theater (Front)
Gotta give it to firefighter bloggers or people who'll chase fire trucks at three in the morning, because they both broke the news that a former movie theatre in Takoma Park was destroyed early Saturday morning in a three-alarm fire. Police from Montgomery and Prince George's counties were called into fight the blaze at Gussini Fashion and Shoes, located at New Hampshire and Ethan Allen avenues.

The fire could be a setback to the City of Takoma Park's The New Ave campaign, which seeks to draw customers to local businesses and eventually revitalized the New Hampshire Avenue corridor. Not only did Gussini support the effort, but The building and the adjacent strip mall were one of the major properties along New Hampshire targeted for redevelopment. A pair of The New Ave banners can be seen on the corner of the building, partly singed but still intact.
Allen Theater & 'The New Ave' Sign
The building originally opened in March 1951 as the 946-seat Allen Theater, whose neon marquee was so bright that it was never fully turned on due to fears of distracting motorists. Shuttered in 1990, the Allen joined a handful of now-closed single-screen cinemas in the Takoma Park area, including the Langley Theatre at New Hampshire and University, the Flower Theatre at Flower and Piney Branch, and the Takoma Theatre on 4th Street NW in the Takoma neighborhood of D.C.

In the 1950's, the Allen Theater didn't discriminate against black patrons unlike other local theaters. Burtonsville resident and friend of JUTP Dr. F would walk to the Allen Theater as a kid while living nearby on Sheridan Street in the District. "It was one of the Maryland theaters that my parents knew was integrated. Not all of them made people of color welcome," he writes in an e-mail. "Only movie I remember seeing there as a kid though was Peter Pan, though I went there at least once as a grown-up when it was more of a grindhouse theater."

The Allen Theater on opening day in 1951. Photo from Maryland's Motion Picture Theaters by Robert Headley.

The Allen Theater, now Gussini Fashion & Shoes, in 2008. Photo by Jack Coursey.

While many of the Allen Theatre's original features had been removed after its conversion to a clothing store in 1990, the marquee and double-height lobby windows remained. They were emblems of the area's dwindling supply (heads up to Silver Spring, Singular) of Mid-Century Modern or Googie buildings, which after fifty or so years are old enough to be irrelevant but too young for many people to appreciate for its history. (Case in point: the Perpetual Building in Downtown Silver Spring.)

Check out this photo of the theatre in 1985, these photos of the fire taken by firefighter (firefighter enthusiast?) Bill McNeel, and this slideshow taken by yours truly of the destroyed Allen Theater.


WashingtonGardener said...

Damn wish I'd be been around to experience this theater in its heydecy - such a shame -

BTW I tagged you with an Honest Scrap Award - see my 12/5/09 blog post at on how to follow up.

Silver Spring: Then and Again said...

Even in its pre-fire state, this structure had great architectural styling. The Silver Spring Historical Society expresses its condolences to Takoma Park for the loss of this important mid-century landmark.

Cyndy said...

I saw a few movies at the Allen. It had a lot of style even when it was well past its prime. I'm sorry to see it go.

Thayer-D said...

That's a shame. If they build this building in U-Street, it would have turned quite a few heads, instead is was practically hidden in plain sight. Also since 99% of modernist architecture is quite de-humanizing, it's nice to see an example with real flair.

Sligo said...

It should be noted that in the 1985 photo, the theater is showing "Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo". How great is that?

Unknown said...

I went to see Purple Rain there in 85!!!