Fine Arts Theatre

1919 M Street NW,
Washington, DC 20036

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rivest266 on June 27, 2015 at 4:26 pm

December 22nd, 1967 grand opening ad in photo section

sguttag on October 14, 2014 at 1:17 pm

“Cocoon” definitely played there in 70mm.

Giles on February 8, 2011 at 3:44 pm

so aside from HOOK, STAR TREK III and ALIENS, what other 70mm presentations were shown here as such (I’m kicking myself for not trekking down to see ALIENS there instead of subjecting myself to the small Mazza Galleria screen)

WilliamSpainhour on January 15, 2010 at 1:22 pm

Steve is right. There was no curtain at the Fine Arts. I was an assistant manager there in the early Seventies. The screen was shadow-boxed. During my time we had a problem with distortion at each end of the projected image. This was caused by an incorrect lens that KB wouldn’t bother to replace. I recall the director of “Sounder” going crazy during the opening and demanding to be taken to the booth. Sure enough, you had to exit the theater and go next door to get there. A strange arrangement. But it was still a fun place to work.

sconnell1 on August 1, 2009 at 6:56 pm

The longest running films at the Fine Arts between 1967 and the time I left D.C. in mid-January of 1972 were:

GOODBYE COLUMBUS (28 weeks), ELVIRA MADIGAN (18 weeks), THE STERILE CUKOO (12 weeks), PETULIA (11 weeks), THE GO-BETWEEN (11 weeks), I LOVE YOU ALICE B. TOKLAS, (10 weeks), and THE 12 CHAIRS (10 weeks). THE SUMMER OF ‘42 almost ran for almost 10 weeks.

sconnell1 on August 1, 2009 at 6:44 pm

CACTUS FLOWER had already enjoyed a 9 week run, starting on Christmas Day in 1969, prior to its run at the Fine Arts.

sconnell1 on August 1, 2009 at 6:40 pm

IF originally opened on January 23, 1970 at the Playhouse and played there for one week. LORD OF THE FLIES opened at the Playhouse of December 25, 1963 and played there for a little over 7 weeks. They played on a double bill for one week in September of 1970.

JodarMovieFan on April 1, 2008 at 2:25 pm

If the theater closed in ‘94…14 years ago, that’s hardly “decades ago” and plus, that would age me beyond reason! The last time I drove by the spot, it had already been built over and assimilated by a new building. Its gone. As fond as my memories of movie experiences go, I’d prefer the old MacArthur to come back. The building and space is still there even though CVS occupies a small part of it.

rlvjr on February 24, 2008 at 1:36 pm

02/24/08 The Fine Arts, located in the high rent district, still exists. It was closed decades ago, but the building is still there, empty and useless.

sguttag on July 28, 2007 at 7:09 pm

Yes, it was just lights with blue glass covers. In fact, I remember them using one as a coin dish in the boxoffice to return change. As for spelling…mine has always been unique! You will no doubt find many spelling errors. I used to have a really nifty program for my old Mac SE/30 called Thunder 7…it always was working in the background and helped me a lot.

What was behind the screen at the Fine Arts was a Cement shelf that went up about 13-feet or so, as I recall. The speakers sat in front of that on three foot tall stands (Altec A-4s are 10-feet tall with a horn on top of that). The subwoofers sat on that shelf. You got to the speaker room by going out of the theatre by the right front door and up the steps one flight…there was a door that lead to the room. If you kept going up you could leave the building.

As to photographs…I don’t have many of the old theatres. I have them of most of the current ones I’m associated with. I’m real bad about posting them on Film-Tech (except the South Branch Cinema 6 in Moorefield, WV). I always get permission before posting those though.

If I could go back in time…yes I would want to have snapped a lot of pictures of the theatres I worked in. I’ve normally been accorded access to most every place in the theatres and could have documented them well. As much of a shutter-bug I was back then, I never shot the theatres…for shame.

HowardBHaas on July 28, 2007 at 6:55 pm

Just so we set a proper example, it is spelled Proscenium, which framed the screen. In historic theaters, behind it was the stage and stagehouse. The KB Fine Arts evidently didn’t have a stagehouse. What it did have was great projection and sound.

Steve, so what I was looking at was a blue light lit screen? That’s what you mean by “screen wash”? then blue house lights went off the screen, blue lights went off, and presentation began?

HowardBHaas on July 28, 2007 at 6:47 pm

Yes, I remember it was a downstairs theater. I read the “procenium-less screen” comment and realize its possible ramification. I remember how handsomely blue the auditorium was. I just don’t recall it not having a curtain. You must be right.

If only you, Steve, had photographed theaters you worked in. You could’ve posted some photos on the film tech website like the others do.

Several years, I was looking in D.C. for what it became, and I think a nightclub or something, if I found the right spot. Maybe somebody can verify that?

sguttag on July 28, 2007 at 6:38 pm

Okay…I dug out Headley’s book. You’ll note that the line about the curtain (the last line, actually, and is found on page 261) was not in quotes as was the Washington Post article quoted from December 23, 1967. Note the article does mention the “Procenium-less screen” which is where a curtain would go (curtains don’t tend to hang in free-space…they hang behind a valance or go up behind a procenium to hide their rigging.

What clearly had changed since that article was written was the ticket counter actually faced the court outside…from there everything was DOWNSTAIRS. Not upstairs as was indicated in the article. So either there was a change in boxoffice or there was a typo in the article.

After the first flight of steps down you came to the theatre level where the concession stand lived (and inside boxoffice for slower times…most KB theatres had a ticket dispenser on the concession stand for slower times to cut down on labor of staffing a separate boxoffice). From there you either entered the theatre or you could go down a short flight of stairs to the lower lobby where the restrooms were (and manager’s office). This lower lobby was handy for special functions too.

sguttag on July 23, 2007 at 3:39 am

First, THX would not have approved the Altec A-4…second, why would one pay THX for the certification and annual recertifications when the theatre already had the reputation of 1st class picture and sound? It is more expensive to retrofit a theatre for THX and progressively more difficult in a situation like the Fine Arts where the theatre was essentially part of another building…HVAC might have needed to be redesigned to hit their NC figures, which might not have been doable….and the list goes on. Where THX made sense was in a competitive market to distinguish oneself from the rest of the crowd.

Yes, the Fine Arts screen is smaller that the larger theatres at the Annapolis Mall XI. Theatre 1 there is 50-feet wide with theatres 10 and 11 coming in at 40 feet or thereabouts. Theatres 5 and 6 are the next largest and I don’t recall them hitting 40 feet but they might….yes I helped install that one and serviced it for the first couple of years.


JodarMovieFan on July 22, 2007 at 6:48 pm

35' screen? That’s not very big at all. That’s probably smaller than a lot of the screens at my favorite Annapolis Mall 11 plex! So the speaker set up at the Fine Arts was considered state-of-the-art at the time, Steve? If so, I’m wondering why KB didn’t just go all out and get THX certification for this place. I remember THX was ‘new’ back in 84 but I think the then GCC Springfield 1 was the first to get it here with their 70mm engagement of Indiana Jones.

Ahhh..the memories guys. :)

HowardBHaas on July 22, 2007 at 6:35 pm

The 35 feet wide estimate is consistent with my memories of filmgoing there 1985 to 1987.

sguttag on July 22, 2007 at 6:32 pm


Your memory is correct about the surrounds…they were made by Community and were called the DSS or DDS…I forget which. The Fine Arts is the only theatre we tried them in…while they did okay…they were considered unsightly by some and not particularly great. The stage speakers were Altec A-4s (five of them when they went to 70mm) and JBL subwoofers.

Believe it or not…the screen was closer to 35-feet wide, nowhere near 40-50'. The shadowbox type front end was meant to convey this sense of largeness since it tapers towards the screen and is white like the screen.

JodarMovieFan on July 22, 2007 at 6:24 pm

Whoa. This theater brings back memories. If there was one complaint about this place was the obvious lack of parking. I remember I had to drive around and around to find a parking place before showtime during the week. Weekends weren’t too bad but you’d still have to plan ahead so that you’d get to the box office on time before showtime.

As with my other favorite DC theater, the Jenifer, you had to enter in on the street level and go down stairs to the theater. I don’t recall what kind of lobby, if any, this place had. Weren’t there two entrances to the auditorium on either side of the concession stand? I don’t remember with certainty. What I do recall is the auditorium being almost stadium style as one would descend upon entering the theater towards the screen. Their speakers had a longitudinal tubular arrangement around the auditorium, not unsightly but different.

I saw Star Trek III: The Search for Spock opening day and many, many other times(yeah I know, I’m a genre fan)here during its run the Summer of 1984. This was the only venue in the DC area that had it in 70mm and was the destination point for my posse to see this event film. Compared with STII, the effects both sound and visual were truly special. There wasn’t a cheesiness to it upon its theatrical viewings.

My memorable moments from the film was the emerging Klingon Bird of Prey and the sound effect that started out slow, building up surroundly until it materialized on screen. Then there was the Enterprise as it engages at warp speed and that whoooooooooosh that started up front and went right to rear. In subsequent viewings it became apparent that the sound effect sounded too much like what the Flinstones used to aurally convey speed. The murder of Kirk’s son David was so visceral with the Klingon lunging down stabbing him with that knife. The sound seemed to convey a sense of bone breaking too from the blunt force impact and weight of that final thrust. In just about every viewing I saw here, there was always someone to be heard sniffling or blowing their nose from tearing up once Kirk realizes who was killed, falls to the floor and declares “You Klingon bastard, you killed my son!!” Performance wise, I don’t think William Shatner has done any better acting since this movie in a strictly dramatic context.

And lastly, the destruction of the beloved Enterprise. The combination of the colorful and layered visual effects (melting skin of the ship, sparking) and the sound effects of the saucer ship exploding and then hurling into the Genesis atmosphere, in a freefall, as James Horner’s sweeping score captures the dramatic moment that concludes with the Enterprise streaking across the sky, like a comet, as Kirk & Co watch on the surface. For me and others, I think this moment in Trekdom was more powerful than even the death of Spock, himself because there is an assured finality to the destruction.

Whomever started the assessment that the odd numbered films are inferior or somehow less successful than the even ones has never seen them theatrically and exhibited in 70mm 6 track stereo. Presentation is everything. Its not to say Howard the Duck in 70mm would be Gone With the Wind though.

In 1986, our local youth group, on my suggestion, went to see Aliens here in 70mm. I don’t recall it showing anywhere else and based on my prior experience here with Star Trek III, this was THE place to see it. It was a sold out showing with the theater packed. Needless to say, no one was disappointed and despite its lengthy running time, we were riveted to our seats.

The scene that stands out in my memory that got the audience going was at the very end when we think Ripley, Bishop, Newt and Hicks have nuked the colony and are back on the Sulaco..the adrenalin rush has diminished, all is calm, Ripley congratulates Bishop…then there’s a powerful, subtle and swift C-R-A-C-K and in an instant we see the stinger of the alien queen emerge with Bishop’s milk white ‘blood’ spurting everywhere. The gals sitting around and behind me collectively of them hurled her popcorn into the air, which just happened to land on us in front of them. Bishop’s body gets grabbed by the massive alien queen’s arms and gets twisted and flung in two. The resounding landing and mushy ‘thud’ conveyed so strongly what one would think a half bodily cavity would sound like hitting a concrete floor. More screams and gasps and then silence as we witness Ripley battle the queen until the end. Once Ripley eventually closes the cargo bay door and this particular chapter in the saga and holds Newt, the audience erupts in cheers. Its over, but what a cinematic experience! Yet another testament to the power of widescreen presentation done right.

The last movie I saw here in 70mm was Hook. To sum it up shortly, it was a bore. I met my old school buddy and saw it here, again, it had the exclusive 70mm print for our market. I believe I fell asleep during the first part but woke up to John Williams stirring and soaring score as Peter Pan (Robin Williams) is flying about in the skies. Julia Roberts was cute and her big teeth smile filled out the Fine Arts' 40 or 50' widescreen quite nicely. Unfortunately, those two pluses weren’t enough to get me to go back for a subsequent viewing.

sguttag on July 22, 2007 at 6:02 pm

From 1980 to 1987…I defy anyone to produce any picturs that show a curtain in that theatre. I couldn’t imagine anyone removing a curtained front-end to put in a shadowbox front end. I can guarantee that there was no curtain there from 1980 onwards. Just a blue screen wash (lights). I love curtains. There were none in the Fine Arts…in fact, there was very little fabric of any kind in the auditorium.

HowardBHaas on July 22, 2007 at 10:35 am

when in the 1980’s? I saw movies there from 1985 to 1987 and I seem to recall a curtain being used.

Headley’s last sentence in his book is “The Fine Arts actually had a curtain that opened when the film began”

sguttag on July 22, 2007 at 10:15 am

Hold on there Howard….I ran that theatre pretty extensively in the 1980s…installed 70mm there too. There was NO curtain in that theatre nor do I believe there ever was a curtain. The Fine Arts had what was referred to as a “Shadow Box” Imagine a trapizoid on its side so you are looking up its bottom. The sides were chamfered towards the screen. The screen wash was indeed blue. The walls were Alpro.

A big problem with the Shadowbox screen is the complete lack of masking…just a thin black boarder going around. Another problem is that it was fixed 2:1 ratio. We changed that when 70mm went in by adding more material top and bottom to make it more to the scope ratio but for 1.85…you still got the fuzzy sides of the aperture plate.

The K-B Crystal had the same front end but used an orange screen wash.

The Fine Arts could sound REALLY good with 70mm. It always seemed to have good crowds.

An oddity for the projectionist…s/he had to enter the booth from the FCC building as there was no path between the booth and the theatre!