AFI SILVER THEATRE AND CULTURAL CENTER
Silver Spring, Maryland
The AFI/Silver as it appears in 2009. It operates 7-days a week and shows most every type of motion picture entertainment, from classics to current fare. However, its current fate was far from certain.
The Silver Theatre was opened September 15, 1938 and designed by John Eberson. For the first part of its life, it was operated by Warner Brothers. However, it and its land changed hands for the latter part of its 1st life. It was then operated by the Washington, DC based K-B Theatres.
By the mid-1980s, time had run its course and the fate of the Silver was seemingly to follow in the footsteps of other theatres of its era now living in a Multiplex world. One thing it was spared, however, was being cut up into a quick and dirty twin, triple or quad. That said, it suffered its own unique disgrace.
The mid 1980s were years in which downtown Silver Spring, Maryland was building. The landlords of the Silver also wanted to develop their property. The problem being that the Silver and its adjoining shopping center were considered historical landmarks, though, at the time, not officially registered. The people of the area put up a stiff resistance. To keep the theatre (and other parts of the city block) from becoming too historical, “things” started to happen to the building. In the years and months prior to its closing, bits and pieces of the Silver were removed and destroyed! The “Silver” tower was not only removed but demolished to ensure it would not return. The Art-Deco features of the lobby, like the coves were hammered away and a modern drop ceiling installed. The awning lights were removed to be replaced by a much more simple (and cheap looking, yet modern) replacement. Finally, the Silver was shuttered in 1985.
The community and County won its battle with the landlords in that building boom of the 1980s passed and the Silver did obtain historic classification in 1988 but much damage was done.
Ten years passed and in 1998, Montgomery County Maryland decided to redevelop a depressed Silver Spring, Maryland with the Silver Theatre to be its crown jewel. The American Film Institute was to be operator of the Silver Theatre in the 21st Century. On April 4th, 2003 AFI/Silver Theatre and Cultural Center opens.
Fortunately, the jackhammers and other demo equipment did not have access to the original blueprints. For the “Silver” tower was recreated off the original designs with the addition of the “AFI” block above the “S.”
December 2009 photo from the Steve Guttag collection.