Ambassador Theatre

2464 18th Street NW,
Washington, DC 20009

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Additional Info

Previously operated by: Stanley-Warner Theatres, Warner Bros. Circuit Management Corp.

Architects: Reginald W. Geare, Thomas White Lamb

Styles: Adam, Neo-Classical

Previous Names: Knickerbocker Theatre

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News About This Theater

Shorpy roof collapse photo from 1-29-22.

The Knickerbocker Theatre was built in 1915 for Harry Crandall, who owned a small chain of theatres in Washington, including the Lincoln and Metropolitan Theatres (and later, the Tivoli). It was designed by Reginald W. Geare on Columbia Road, with a sedate Georgian Revival façade that followed a curve on Columbia Road. The three-story façade, of limestone on red brick, also had touches of Colonial Revival and Neo-Classical styles. The interior of the 1,700-seat movie house was a graceful and not overly decorated blend of Adam and Neo-Classical styles.

The Knickerbocker Theatre opened on October 12, 1917, with the historical drama “Betsy Ross” and an appearance by the film’s star, Alice Brady.

On January 28, 1922, during an intermission in the hit comedy film, “Get Rich Quick Wallingford”, while the orchestra was playing, the Knickerbocker Theatre’s poorly constructed roof collapsed after a heavy snowstorm over the past two days had piled almost two feet of snow on it. After the cave-in, 98 people were killed and 136 injured, in what was then Washington’s worst disaster. Crandall closed all of his theatres in sympathy for the dead after the Knickerbocker Theatre disaster for a week, and was not charged with any wrongdoing, which was not the case of Reginald W. Geare, whose career as the most popular theatre architect in the District of Columbia up until that time came to an abrupt end. He killed himself in 1927, as did Harry Crandall, who later went bankrupt, a decade later.

In 1923, Thomas Lamb was hired to build a new theatre in the shell of the Knickerbocker Theatre, which would be called the Ambassador Theatre. (Harry Crandall would also replace Reginald W. Geare with Thomas Lamb on his next project, the Tivoli Theatre). Lamb’s theatre retained Reginald W. Geare’s façade, which Thomas Lamb would embellish, but the rest of the theatre was all new. Thomas Lamb’s interior was a blend of Adam and Neo-Classic styles, somewhat more ornate than the Knickerbocker Theatre, but nearly the same size. The 1,800-seat Ambassador Theatre opened on September 20, 1923 with the Warner Bros. film “Main Street” starring Florence Vidor.

By the 1950’s, the Ambassador Theatre was struggling to keep up with competition from television, and its owners opted to raze the historic theatre in 1969, after years of low attendance. A bank was constructed on the site in 1978.

Contributed by Bryan, RickB

Recent comments (view all 42 comments)

BobFurmanek on October 19, 2012 at 11:16 pm

The Ambassador was one of two theaters in Washington to play Alfred Hitchcock’s DIAL M FOR MURDER in 2-D, without glasses. I’ve posted an ad for opening day, May 27, 1954.

More information can be found in this article:

Mendy216 on November 28, 2012 at 5:35 pm

My Uncle was in the Knickerbocker theater the day it colapsed. heard sone noise and he and many others left by the exit. he was in the exit door archway as the roof fell in. he lived on champlain st. NW. 1 block away.

DavidZornig on February 7, 2014 at 9:40 pm

FYI. The Shorpy Higginbotham Facebook page and website has a detailed photo that will enlarge, of the aftermath of the collapse.

rivest266 on June 20, 2015 at 5:29 pm

1917 and 1923 grand opening ads in photo section

DavidZornig on August 5, 2015 at 10:35 pm

I uploaded the 1-29-22 roof collapse photo from the below Shorpy link.

DavidZornig on October 14, 2017 at 7:52 pm

Another Shorpy link with the grand opening night photo. Click on View Full Size.

DavidZornig on October 27, 2018 at 1:16 pm

Another article about the collapse.

DavidZornig on November 4, 2022 at 8:44 pm

Yet another article about the collapse.

LouRugani on January 29, 2024 at 11:14 am

EXCESSIVE SNOW CAUSES COLLAPSE OF WASHINGTON - Crash Comes Without Warning, Burying Scores In Wreckage - Police UnableTo Estimate Number of Victims - Give First Aid To Injured In Emergency Hospital (By Associated Press) WASHINGTON, Jan. 28. Seventeen persons at least are believed to have.been killed and scores injured tonight in the collapse under the weight of two feet of snow of the roof of the Knickerbocker theater, a motion picture house, located in the heart of Washington’s fashionable northwest section. Two hours and a half after the crash, which occurred about 9 o'clock, definite information as to the number of dead and injured was wholly lacking as well as estimates of the number of those in the theater at the time, these estimates ranging from 150 to 500, although the theater, one of the finest motion picture houses in the city, had accommodations for more than 2,000 spectators. All was confusion for hours after the crash while police, firemen, marines from the nearby barracks and soldiers from Walter Reed Military Hospital strove to burrow beneath the mass of debris and bring forth those buried thereunder. Scores had been removed from the edges of the debris and hurried to hospitals but police engaged for hours in battling the worst snow storm to visit Washington in a decade were unable to check up on the number of those taken to hospitals or on whether, or how many, had died after reaching the hospitals. Every fire station in the city was called upon to send Its crew to the scene. With the arrival of the marines, however, order began to be restored. Emergency hospitals were set up in the neighborhood; some in the home of high officials of the government. Finding the tons of concrete and steel of the roof were almost immovable and impenetrable, the street railway company of the city and the Washington navy .yard was called upon to supply acetylene-torches; with these more rapid progress was made and it was hoped that within a few hours it might be possible to reach those buried beneath the debris. Among the injured were Representative Smithwyck of Florida, who was painfully cut about the head and chest but not seriously hurt; and Nobile Toniasso Asserto, third secretary of the Italian embassy. The management of the theater, which was owned add operated by the Harry M. Crandali company; owner of a number of theaters in the city, declared that the building only recently had' been Inspected and approved and that the collapse of the roof only could have been caused by the tremendous weight imposed upon it by the heaviest snowfall that has visited Washington since 1889. The roof fell with such force as to drive three pillars through the orchestra floor. Near the stage, however, its force was arrested, so that the platform successfully acted as a buffer. For this reason, it was said, several of the musicians escaped. One case was-observed of a small boy crawling through a small aperture in the tangled mass of concrete, steel and wood to a man, woman and child who were “pinned” down and giving them water. As the night wore on the work of rescue continued feverishly, but some officials expressed doubt that the debris could be completely removed for several days. No warning was given as the walls crashed, the roof breaking in on the heads of the audience with a noise like thunder and crashing seats and occupants as it fell. It was more than an hour before the rescuers, using gas torches to cut through the accumulated mass of steel and concrete, reached the section where it was believed most of the dead and injured were. The theater, situated in the center of Washington’s fashionable northwest section, presented a scene of horror an hour after the roof fell neath a weight of snow heavier than to which it had been subjected since. The roof, to those able to .push through police lines, seemed to rest on the floor, scarcely a foot and a half separating the lowermost debris and the floor level. Standing up through the debris, however, stark and ragged, were the pillars that had supported the balconies and the roof. The same snowfall which caused the collapse of the theater’s roof also worked to lessen the number of those in the crash, for the theater, being the only one in that section, usually is filled even to standing room on week-nights.

Rick on January 30, 2024 at 8:57 am

I heard that the projection booth was attached to the rear of the building and that the fire company rescued the projectionists by ladder. When I was in the union there were still guys who were around in those days.

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