Local movie theaters are one of those dying institutions, along with local video rentals and hardware stores. Nowadays, the movie watching experience in Washington, DC is one of two: colossal, chaotic, and corporate—Regal Cinemas at Gallery Place Chinatown, or whatever subtitled Palme D’Or winner the E Street Cinema has to offer.
However, there is some respite from these two extremes, though you’ll have to go to the District line to get there. The Avalon Theater in Chevy Chase is the oldest surviving theater in DC, a non-profit (technically it is a “film center”), and beyond all that, shows the perfect mix of blockbusters and arthouse flicks.
One of the best things about the Avalon is its strong sense of being part of the community. Perhaps this comes from the fact that the theater was forced to close in 2001 after being open since 1923, but was saved in 2003 by The Avalon Theater Project, a group of local neighborhood members with fundraising support from the DC government, foundations, and individuals. According to the manager that we spoke with while we were visiting, 90% of the Avalon’s operating budget is from ticket sales while the other 10% is from donations.
My other favorite aspect of the Avalon is its unabashed love of all things cinematheque. It is the home of DC’s branch of The Cinema Club, where members enter the theater Sundays at 10:30am, are shown a surprise movie (something that has not yet been released in the DC-area), and stick around to discuss it. The Avalon also plays host to French, Greek, and Czech movie nights one Wednesday each every month. And Senior Cinema Thursdays, where movies are $6.50 at 10:30am!
Of course, the Avalon is even more worth a visit for its lovely décor, especially the ceiling painting of cherubs grasping film reels. Head there soon!
To visit: 5612 Connecticut Avenue, NW, 202-966-6000. A 15 minute walk from the Friendship Heights metro or right off the L1, L2, and L4 buslines.