Spotlight on Small Businesses: Avalon Theatre

The Avalon Theatre, Washington’s only non-profit film center, is known for its diverse range of movies shown and variety of other programs. 

According to the theater’s website, its mission is to “entertain, educate, and inspire the people of metropolitan Washington, DC.” The Avalon offers a wide range of films and programs — such as film festivals, first-run films, independents and foreign films — that allow people of all ages to come together and appreciate the art of cinema.

Previously known as the Chevy Chase Theatre, the Avalon opened its doors in the winter of 1922 to showcase silent films. In 1929, Stanley Warner adopted the theater, wired it for sound and gave it its current name. In the same year, the theater screened its first film with sound: “The Wolf of Wall Street.” 

Over several decades, the Avalon underwent changes in management and commercial ownership, as well as various renovations that increased its audience and value to local community members. Business slowed, however, forcing the last commercial owners to declare bankruptcy in 2001. As other local theaters were demolished or transformed into retail stores, the Chevy Chase neighborhood scrambled to save the Avalon from meeting the same fate. 

“The community began a fundraiser,” General Manager Paul Gomes da Silva explained. “They tried everything they could, and they did it.” 

With the help of many individuals, the Washington government and various foundations, The Avalon Theatre Project became a nonprofit organization in November 2001. On April 23, 2003, the Avalon reopened and has been thriving since. 

William Hayes, a self-proclaimed cinephile and loyal member of the Avalon community for 45 years, said his favorite aspect of the theater is “the variety of films they showcase that aren’t found at mainstream theaters like AMC.” 

In addition, the Avalon’s Cinema Classroom and Film Studies programs have become increasingly popular over the years. The Cinema Classroom invites students in middle or high school to discuss critical current events and issues through screenings. Participants select films that highlight human rights and social justice issues to accompany discussions. In the 2022-2023 program, the Avalon plans to feature “Soundtrack for a Revolution,” a documentary that examines the Civil Rights Movement through music. Open to all age ranges, Film Studies classes analyze topics such as directors, filmmakers, genres, techniques, historical eras and classics. 

Due to the pandemic and the rise of streaming platforms, the movie industry as a whole has suffered immensely. Though the Avalon has felt this impact, it has been able to persevere with the unwavering support of the Washington community through ticket revenue and donations.