Town Theater

1250 New York Avenue NW,
Washington, DC 20005

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Rick on January 5, 2023 at 1:10 pm

The projection booth had periscopes that raised the beam over the heads of people in the balcony. They did not have 70mm capability as questioned in an earlier post.

Giles on April 23, 2020 at 7:10 pm

This theater/building has a very interesting history (as noted in Robert K. Headley’s book: “Motion Picture Exhibition in Washington, D.C.”). Built in 1907-1908, the Masonic Auditorium began showing movies (and vaudeville) from 1908 (!). The first floor auditorium which ran the entire first floor was able to seat almost 1,800 people. A second auditorium was located on the fifth floor that seated about 700 patrons. When the building was converted into the museum, the first floor was remolded into a grand hall and a new 200 seat auditorium on the third floor.

rivest266 on June 25, 2015 at 12:11 am

March 28th, 1959 grand opening ad as Town also in the photo section.

rivest266 on June 21, 2015 at 7:13 pm

October 3rd, 1941 grand opening ad as Pix in photo section

nick3 on December 20, 2012 at 3:22 pm

Hey Giles- No problem at all. To address what you said about the horror movies-

That’s correct. I remember of few of the “R” and “NR-17” movies that played there around 1980. My friends and I were customers there at that time. I remember seeing “Mother’s Day” there at that time, as well as others.

Now for Part 3 of the story-

So after the failure of the KB Theater company to improve the business at the Town, Mr. King sold the Town Theater (as well as Senator and Capital Hill Theaters) to two guys, Dick Dacy and Bob Rackenspurger, who ran a small film distributing business for the cheesy drive-in type movies (I believe they may have distributed X movies as well). They became “Gateway Theaters” with the three cinemas, and hoped to possibly expand.

The good thing about Bob and Dick, is that they came into the theater business with an open mind (unlike KB), taking advise from those of us that had been at the theaters for a while and could share opinions and ideas. The first thing they did was to restore the double-feature and lower the ticket price a little. Business began improving at the Town, and at the Senator Theater as well. Many of the long-time loyal customers returned, and business was back to what it had been a couple of years earlier, average to good, with the occasional “hit”.

Another good decision made under Gateway was to bring in the “All-Night Show”. A man named Ray Bently who was based out of Richmond, would rent time (midnight to 7AM) at movie theaters in urban areas, would put together themed-shows (black exploitation, horror, etc.), and advertise on popular radio stations in the area. These shows would often sell out on the weekend. Bently would profit from the ticket sales, and Gateway profited from the concession sales, so it was prosperous for all parties involved. These types of decisions helped keep the theater afloat during Gateways time.

Then, towards the end of 1983, we received the news- The Town Theater was losing its lease in the Masonic Temple building, as the owners of the building were already in negotiations, and the rumor was that it was going to be some sort of “women’s museum”, which seemed totally crazy at that time, as the block was full of peep-show businesses and seedy clubs (The Room, The Brass Rail, etc.)

It was ashame, because Bob and Dick had expressed interest in keeping the theater going, and possibly converting it into a “twin” cinema, like the Capital Hill.

Well, as they say, all good things must come to an end. The doors closed for good in February 1984. Some employees had been there for many years, although most of the real veterans left when KB took management. Thanks for reading, and anyone with additional info please add. I’ll check back for questions as well.

God Bless!

Giles on December 7, 2012 at 10:24 pm

sorry to disrupt your flow there nick3 – great read by the way, I remember the theater when they were showing their horror movies at the beginning of 1980 – I was too young though to go see movies and the R/unrated flicks that were being shown. I think Lucio Fulci’s ‘Zombie’ was shown here.

nick3 on December 6, 2012 at 12:02 pm

Before I continue with part two of my article above, I’ll address “Giles” comment about the National Museum of Woman-

I visited there recently, and I can assure you that the old movie screen and stage from the days of the Town Theater, are completely gone. The auditorium itself is still there, in its same location, but the only thing original in there is the ceiling. I believe its been restored, but its the same ornate ceiling I remember from back then.

Now for PART 2 of the post I started above:

So, in 1982, with owner Don King aging and becoming overwelmed with running the business, theater operation and management of the Town Theater was turned over to the KB Theater chain. They were very big in the Washington DC area at that time, and also ran the Haagen-Dazs ice cream store chain at that time.

The problem with the KB chain was that they didn’t seem to have a knowledge of running grindhouse-type theaters in the rougher urban areas of the city. Coming in, they made three big mistakes-

1- Raised the ticket price to about $5.00 (this was top dollar adult price for their other Georgetown / Northwest theaters.

2- Stopped the double-feature, showing only a first-run movie.

3- Cleared the auditorium after every show.

It was quite clear that they thought that this would persuade “better clientele” into the theater. But what it did was cause us to lose many of our regular customers, and much business was lost. KB also did a poor job of picking movies for the Town Theater. Gone were the great Shaw-Brothers karate movies and popular horror movies that had done so well in the previous years. To KB’s credit, they did do very well for the Capital Hill Cinemas 1 & 2, as they experienced a sharp increase in business.

By the end of 1982, the Town Theater losing too much money, so Don King decided to pull management from KB and sell his theater business-The Town,The Senator, Capital Hill 1 & 2 (The Penn had closed in 1982, before KB was involved).


Giles on November 30, 2012 at 2:49 pm

I doubt it’s the original screen but there IS a theater space inside the National Museum of Woman in the Arts building – that can present film screenings.

nick3 on November 30, 2012 at 1:46 am

I was the last person to manage the Town Theater just before it closed in 1983. I can give a little history from the 1970’s until its closing.

In the 70’s, The Town Theater was owned and run by a man by the name of “Don King” (no relation to the boxing promoter). Mr. King also had several other movie theaters in Washington DC- The Senator, The Penn, and The Capital Hill Cinemas 1 & 2 (Note: The Capital Hill is not found on this site, but was located in the 500 block of 8th Street SE).

From around 1980, business was fair most of the time, with an occassional “big hit”. The price was good at $3.50 adult ticket, for a double feature. There were regular customers that came every week, regardless of what was playing there. One big moment was in 1981, when “Body and Soul” (remake) starring Leon Isaac Kennedy opened. Leon and his wife Jane were at the premier on opening day. The biggest hit during the 1981 period was, without a doubt, “Richard Pryor Live on the Sunset Strip”. It played alone for several weeks, and the weekends always sold out.

In late 1982, Don King turned full management of the Town Theater over to KB Theaters, a company that was thriving at that time. TO BE CONTINUED>>>>>>>>

dickneeds111 on December 20, 2011 at 6:28 am

I was in D.C. from early 1960 to middle of 1966. Most of the films there were Fox, Paramount, Columbia or Universal and were either Move overs or Re-Issues except for Fox. Around the World, Spartacus and other big 70mm films. I don.t believe The town could show 70mm so everything was 35mm.

sconnell1 on December 24, 2009 at 5:45 am

I only saw a handful of films at the Town: TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD,

After the 1968 riots it became unsafe to park on the streets in the area. I started college in 1969, and confided my downtown theater going to Keiths and the Palace.

Local619 on December 19, 2009 at 1:58 pm

Masonic Auditorium 13th & New York Ave.. Moving Pictures and Vaudeville, Pictures change every night.. Display Ad, Washington Post March 7, 1910..

sconnell1 on March 20, 2009 at 4:03 am

Here are the films that played at the Town from the time of its opening in 1959, until the time that I left D.C. in January of 1972.

03/28/59 Never Steal Anything Small
04/03/59 Never Steal Anything Small/ Stranger In My Arms
04/10/59 The Devil Strikes At Dawn
04/17/59 Naughty Girl
05/06/59 Tank Battalion/Hell Squad
05/14/59 Shane/Desert Fury
06/04/59 The Last Mile/The Fearmakers
06/11/59 The Hangman/City Of Fear
06/18/59 I, Mobster/ California
06/25/59 The Man Inside
07/02/59 The Angry Hills
07/10/59 Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure/
——— The Man Who Could Cheat Death
07/16/59 The Wild Women Of Wongo/The Sins Of Lola Montes
07/23/59 Flesh And The Woman/The Bride Is Much Too Beautiful
07/30/59 The Mummy/THe Curse Of The Undead
08/05/59 The Beat Generation
08/20/59 The Hound Of The Baskervilles
08/27/59 Monika, The Story Of A Bad Girl
09/03/59 It Started With A Kiss
10/15/59 No Name On The Bullet/Floods Of Fear
10/22/59 Female And The Flesh
11/04/59 Bend Of The River/The World In His Arms
11/11/59 The Mating Urge/You Know What Sailors Are
11/18/59 Room At The Top/The Ladykillers
11/25/59 Tarzan, The Ape Man (1959/ The Oregon Trail
12/02/59 Wild Strawberries/Three Strange Loves
12/17/59 Li'l Abner
01/29/60 A Woman Like Satan
03/03/60 Breakout
03/17/60 The Wind Cannot Read
03/31/60 Cell 2455, Death Row /Edge Of Eternity
04/08/60 The Rape Of Mayala (aka A Town Like Alice)/
——— The Beasts Of Marseilles (aka Seven Thunders)
04/14/60 Around The World In 80 Days
04/28/60 The Bridges At Toko Ri /The Country Girl
05/05/60 The Greatest Show On Earth
05/20/60 Walk Like A Dragon/
——— The Prisoner Of The Volga
05/27/60 Killers Of Kilamanjaro/Battle Of The Coral Sea
06/03/60 The Warrior And The Slave Girl
06/10/60 Head Of A Tyrant/Too Soon To Love
06/17/60 The Wicked Go To Hell
06/22/60 The Brides Of Dracula/Leech Woman
07/08/60 The 39 Steps (1960 version )
07/27/60 Psycho
11/04/60 Hiroshima, Mon Amour (French)
12/02/60 Hiroshima, Mon Amour (English)
12/23/60 The World Of Suzy Wong
03/31/61 One-Eyed Jacks
05/24/61 On The Double
06/23/61 Love In A Goldfish Bowl
07/07/61 La Dolce Vida
11/10/61 Rocco And His Brothers
11/23/61 Beware Of Children
12/06/61 Everything’s Ducky
12/15/61 Mysterious Island
12/27/61 The Roman Spring Of Mrs. Stone
02/07/62 The Mark
02/16/62 Lover Come Back
06/08/62 Spartacus)
06/22/62 That Touch Of Mink
09/20/62 Damn The Defiant
10/11/62 The Pigeon That Took Room
11/08/62 Requiem For A Heavyweight
12/07/62 A Streetcar Named Desire/Tobacco Road
12/21/62 Two For The Seesaw
02/14/63 To Kill A Mockingbird
06/21/63 Irma La Douce
10/11/63 For Love Or Money
11/01/63 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea
11/28/63 Li'l Abner/To Kill A Mockingbird
12/06/63 My Little Chickadee/The Bank Dick
12/13/63 The Secret Passion (aka Freud)
12/25/63 Charade
03/25/64 Captain Newman, M.D.
05/29/64 The Chalk Garden
07/31/64 A Shot In The Dark
10/30/64 Send Me No Flowers
12/25/64 Kiss Me, Stupid
02/10/65 How To Murder Your Wife
05/26/65 The Satan Bug
06/09/65 Mister Moses
06/30/65 What’s New Pussycat?
11/11/65 The War Lord
12/24/65 Never Too Late
01/20/66 That Man In Istanbul
03/02/66 The Silencers
05/25/66 Blindfold
07/06/66 Arabesque
09/28/66 Fantastic Voyage
11/16/66 What’s Up Tiger Lily?
12/23/66 Gambit
02/17/67 Deadlier Than The Male
03/17/67 The Countess From Hong Kong
04/12/67 Hombre
06/28/67 The Dirty Dozen
11/15/67 Tony Rome
12/20/67 The President’s Analyst
03/06/68 Around The World In 80 Days
04/17/68 The Secret War Of Harry Frigg
05/29/68 Wild In The Streets
06/26/68 The Green Berets
08/07/68 Boom
08/21/68 The Wild Angels/Born Losers
12/19/68 Chitty, Chitty Bang Bang
02/19/69 Three In The Attic
03/19/69 Where Eagles Dare
06/04/69 Can Hieronymus Merkin…
07/02/69 The Maltese Bippy
07/16/69 Cleopatra
08/06/69 Spirits Of The Dead
08/27/69 Justine
09/07/69 Medium Cool
10/22/69 The Christmas Tree
11/07/69 The Gypsy Moths
11/26/69 All The Loving Couples
12/17/69 Topaz
02/04/70 tick…tick…tick…
03/20/70 Airport
07/23/70 Two Mules For Sister Sara
09/02/70 It’s Your Thing (Music Doc.)
09/16/70 The Mcmasters
09/30/70 I Am Curious (Yellow) (English Version)
10/14/70 Quiet Days In Clichy
10/28/70 Black Angels
11/04/70 Myra Breckenridge/
——— Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls
11/11/70 The Stewardess 3-D
04/17/71 Pretty Maids In A Row
04/21/71 Grimms Fairy Tales For Adults Only
05/19/71 Secret Places, Secret Things
05/26/71 The Incredible 2-Headed Transplant/
——— The House That Screamed
06/02/71 Portrait Of Women
06/09/71 The Body
06/16/71 Flesh/Lonesome Cowboys
06/23/71 Shaft
12/01/71 Daughters Of Darkness
12/17/71 99 Women/House Of A Thousand Dolls
12/22/71 Honky
01/19/72 House Of Wax

sconnell1 on March 15, 2009 at 5:23 am

Other long running films not listed above that played at the Town between 1959 and 1972. inclued in the order of their release: “Lover Come Back” (16 weeks), “That Touch of Mink” (12 weeks), “Irma La Douce” (16 weeks), “Charade” (13 weeks), “A Shot in the Dark” (13 weeks), “How to Murder Your Wife” (15 weeks, “What’s New Pussycat”(16 weeks), “The Silencers” (12 weeks), “Arabesque” (12 weeks), “Hombre” (11 weeks), “The Dirty Dozen” (20 weeks), “The President’s Analyst” (11 weeks), “Where Eagles Dare” (10 weeks), “Airport” (17 weeks), “The Stewardess 3-D” (22 weeks), and the champ, “Shaft” (23 weeks).

A couple of side notes: “Hiroshima, Mon Amour” played for 4 weeks in French, then 3 weeks in English. “Lover Come Back” and “That Touch of Mink” both starred Doris Day, and they played almost back to back in 1962. The last week that “The Green Berets” played at the Town, the film opened wide at a number of local theaters, something that had never happened before. At “Around the World in 80 Days”, the theater played the National Anthem before the screening started. Some of didn’t know whether to stand or not. In the end we did. Finally the original four-hour version of “Cleopatra” played at the Town in July of 1969.

rlvjr on February 24, 2008 at 10:24 pm

This theater is now double-listed. See also PIX.

Local619 on January 4, 2008 at 12:53 am

October 19, 1950 Washington Post has a display ad for The Pix, 13th & H (building fronts 13th St NW, New York Ave & H St NW)

AdamsOffOx on October 8, 2006 at 2:29 pm

This theater features prominently in George Pelecanos' novel “King Suckerman.”

femgoo on January 27, 2006 at 11:36 pm

I saw Richard Pryor’s “Live at the Sunset Strip” at this

theatre. (4/82) I almost died laughing! :)

rlvjr on July 22, 2005 at 2:59 am

Definitely NOT one of Washington DC’s largest, definitely NOT demolished. For most of its life, this theater was the PIX, the “dirty movie” house for Washington. People today would not believe how SOFT such movies were 50 years ago. A “sex” movie had maybe one blurred nudie scene, that’s it. DON KING did an admirable job of taking this theatre over and calling it the TOWN. He packed em in with first runs such as PSYCHO, HIROSHIMA MON AMOUR, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, LA DOLCE VITA, WORLD OF SUZIE WONG. Despite the upscale audience though, they never could expel the odor of … from the PIX era. The Martin Luther King riot and looting spree placed the fatal bullet in the chest of the TOWN; like the rest of downtown DC; and NO I never did forgive the vandals or their admirers. Today the PIX or TOWN houses a wacky leftist womens museum.

veyoung52 on November 26, 2004 at 4:42 pm

Washington DC home of “Psycho.” Ran for months on end.