Avalon Theatre Celebrates 100th Anniversary


The Avalon Theatre celebrates 100 years with a film festival. Photo: María Helena Carey via Flickr.

The Avalon Theatre is celebrating its centennial anniversary this year through a film festival entitled “100 Years of Cinema Magic” that features a different film screening each month from February to November. The screenings include a film from each decade since the theater’s opening, encapsulating a century of film screenings.

The Avalon Theatre opened in Chevy Chase in 1923 with a 1,200 seating capacity. It soon became the Chevy Chase Warner Bros. Movie house, where it showed all types and styles of cinema. The theater officially became a historic landmark in 1990 and a nonprofit in 2003.

The theater began its work on this cinematic journey by organizing and sorting and compiling over 4,000 movies to choose the most iconic movie from each decade. After selecting 10 movies from each decade, they began to narrow down each collection to a single movie that represented the films of that decade.

Avalon Theatre Board Member Dan Spealman stated that the process is “a lot of hard work, but it’s fun.”

“The history of the Avalon is captured in what we showed, and it’s interesting to look back and see the patterns of how things played and what was playing and what was popular when,” Spealman added.

The Avalon’s annual gala for fundraising was reinstituted on May 6 after being shut down due to the pandemic. The gala highlighted the 1924 film “Sherlock Jr,” directed by Buster Keaton. Although the pandemic halted the progress of “100 Years of Cinema Magic,” production eventually continued in April of 2023.

“I think it became a broader hope that the centennial year would just be something that we could use to remind folks that going to the theater is a special experience,” stated Avalon Programming Director Andrew Mencher in a Washington Post Article.

Mencher described how “the pandemic hit and really devastated, to some extent, our business and many other live business models.”

He added that the attendance of shows is only 75 percent of pre-pandemic turnout. Menchel hopes that by hosting “100 Years of Cinema Magic,” the numbers of attendees will increase as visitors are reminded of the magic of the theater.

Much of the Avalon Theatre’s architecture and history has been preserved in the building and the films, although some sections of the building, such as the auditorium and expansions, have been modified. These renovations include a cafe for refreshments, which also embraces themes of nostalgia by including non-modern features to the design and allowing for minimal renovation.

In addition to showing movies, the Avalon Theatre puts on performances, some of which are based off of a specific movie and demonstrate dances, music and other forms of entertainment through the arts.

These performances kept the Avalon Theatre running for many years after its bankruptcy in 2003, due to their local patrons in addition to paid performances, art and music classes and appearances on television.

In an article with the Star Democrat, Avalon Theatre CEO and President Al Bond stated that “people involved in the Avalon from all walks of life and across the decades came to celebrate this important milestone,” highlighting the diversity of people affected by the theater who came together to celebrate Avalon’s history, cinema and nostalgia.

While the Avalon Theatre revisits its past, it seeks to introduce patrons to memories of art and modernity in the coming ages.