Just around the corner, on Colesville Road, is the American Film Institute (AFI) Silver Theatre and Cultural Center — an architectural treasure and state-of-the-art movie theater saved from the wrecker's ball by the citizens of Silver Spring and Montgomery County.
Architect John Eberson's Art Moderne masterpiece has been beautifully restored to its 1938 splendor, and is now a part of a three-theater complex designed to fulfill AFI's mission of advancing and preserving the art of the moving image. Quite literally the world's most advanced film and video exhibition center, the AFI Silver offers a full range of entertainment and educational activities. Actor and director Cling Eastwood opened the new theater in April 2003, inaugurating its rich mix of new releases, classic movies, festivals, documentaries, films from around the world, and live presentations featuring filmmakers, authors, and other leading artists and celebrities.
John Eberson, known as the "Dean of American Theater Architects" designed over 40 movie theaters during his life. Born in Romania, he studied architecture in Vienna, Austria, before moving to the United States. While his early theaters were reminiscent of European opera houses, his later work was typically Art Deco or Art Moderne, which he employed in the Silver Theatre and its companion
structure, the Silver Spring Shopping Center.
In the theater, Eberson combined elements of both the Art Deco and the atmospheric theatre design movements to create the Silver's nautically inspired ocean liner motifs. This amazing rehabilitation brings back to live Eberson's vision, including the theater's exterior vertical "mast" (or perhaps, "prow" breaking the waves), rear "smoke stack" brickwork, side "portholes," and, inside, wave-patterned carpeting and wall fabric, and hand-painted murals featuring tropical birds and aquatic plants.
Construction of the theater and shopping center began in March 1938 and was completed in six months. The Silver Theatre soon became an integral and treasured part of the region's collective cultural experience. By the 1970s, however, downtown Silver Spring began to fall behind, as new shopping areas were created farther out with the expansion of metropolitan Washington. In 1984, the battle to preserve the Silver Theatre and Silver Spring Shopping Center was launched by the Art Deco Society of Washington with the support of many neighborhood and civic organizations.br>
After a nearly 50-year run, the original Silver Theatre closed its doors in 1985. A decade later, community commitment to saving the theater and shopping center resulted in their inclusion in Montgomery County's historic preservation master plan. In 1996, Montgomery County acquired the theater and shopping center. Two years later the county selected the American Film Institute to operate the theater as well as help design the state-of-the-art facility. As part of the preservation effort, the county entered into an agreement with the Maryland Historical Trust to protect the façade and interior of the theater. The historic Silver Theatre reopened in April 2003. It is waiting for you with an internationally recognized program of film and video offerings — and it's just around the corner.
Silver Spring's new downtown center reflects a strong public/private effort to preserve the past as a gift to the future, by once again setting the trend in how Americans experience entertainment and shopping.