Monday, August 27, 2007

Silver Spring's "Secret" Movie Theater

Do you ever have those fuzzy memories from your early childhood where you can’t quite figure out where and when they happened or if they are even real? For me, one of these memories has always been seeing Star Wars (or was it Empire?) in an underground movie theater in Silver Spring.

I always thought that it might have been located at Fenton and Cameron, with the entrance being that translucent structure protruding from the sidewalk right on the corner. I specifically recall there being an escalator that transported patrons into the bowels of Silver Spring where the lobby of the theater was located.

I figured that this setup was too strange, so I was probably just confusing it up with something else and that entrance was for some completely different purpose. Turns out I was wrong – there was indeed an underground movie theater in Silver Spring and it was located exactly where I thought it was. My suspicions were confirmed by a post yesterday on the Woodside Park Civic Association message board inquiring about the status of the theater. The theater was called the Capri, and is presently being used for storage, with the original theater seats possibly still stacked up inside.

I peeked in the windows and skylight, but all there is to see is the escalator, some drop cloths, orange traffic cones and a chandelier which strangely has a caulking gun stored in it.

This would have been the fourth Silver Spring theater operating during the 70’s & 80’s, the others being the Roth's Silver Spring West (now Bethel World Outreach Ministries), the Roth's Silver Spring East on Thayer (now “Mayor” Quimby's Auto Services - I think) and of course, the Silver Theatre.

Maybe it’s just me, but the idea of a abandoned underground movie theater is fascinating. The possibilities for this space are endless. They could re-open it and show only “underground” films, or use it for any number of interesting things. (If there is a nuclear holocaust anytime soon, I plan to use it as my Omega Man-style headquarters.)

If nothing else, this revelation provides me with extremely satisfying closure.


Anonymous said...

The Capri, a semi-underground 400-seat theatre, was located at 8630 Fenton Street. It opened on January 19, 1972 with "Such Good Friends" and closed in May of 1982.

Jerry A. McCoy
Silver Spring Historical Society

Sligo said...

The real question is: did it show Star Wars and/or Empire Strikes Back?

WashingtonGardener said...

It only last 10 years? Would be cool if someone had the $$$s to invest in buying and refrusbishing it - even aa a part-time theater/loung/nightclub - it could even keep "The Capri" name which is very Swingers/Pulp Fiction

Christopher Chambers said...

Be perfect for live theatre, too. (Or nude stage dancing...the new homeof JP's (from Wisconsin Ave?) Nah, the MoCo liquor laws would wreck that.)

Speaking of Omega Man, I Am Legend, starring Will Smith, is coming out very soon. Frankly if had to tough that out in Silver Spring alone and surrounded by diseased mutants at night, I'd just fortify the NOAA building and make sure the Metro tracks are still powered.

Anonymous said...

I completely agree that a neat spot like that shouldn't be left for something as mundane as storage.

Sligo said...

Even worse, the City Place 10 theaters only made it about ten years, and that probably cost a fortune to build.

I had a summer job working at the concession stand at City Place once. That was a joy.

Anonymous said...

Yes, there were indeed four theaters in downtown S.S. during the 1970s, each having only one (yes, one) single screen! The Capri was far and away the nicest, with the others being somewhat dirty and rundown or, in the case of the Silver Spring East, operated in a metal quonset hut. Alas, all four eventually bit the dust.

Anonymous said...

I was a frequent visitor to the Capri in the 1970's. In fact, I was there opening night in 1972 for Otto Preminger's crummy "Such Good Friends". I also saw "Cabaret" (1972), "The Hot Rock" (1972), "Your Three Minutes Are Up" (1973), the labored Elliott Gould/Donald Sutherland farce "S*P*Y*S" (1974), "A Boy and His Dog" (1975), "Prime Time" (1977)--featuring a hilarious number by Kinky Friedman:

and the geek/dweeb/dork classic "Phantasm" (1979).

In his book "Motion Picture Exhibition in Washington, DC", author Robert K. Headley says that the Capri seated only 400. It always seemed much larger to me. This was probably due to it's long, narrow design. And, yes, there was an indoor escalator to take patrons from the entrance on Fenton Street down to the box office and lobby.

Curiously, when the owners began to experiment with Kung-Fu films in the early 1980's, they offered Asian food at the snack bar. The dumplings were quite good.

I still have dreams about the place on occasion.

Cyndy said...

I used to go to the Capri pretty often. I saw Star Wars there. I never saw The Empire Strikes Back so I can't help you with that aspect. I think it would be extra cool if the Capri were to reopen as an underground jazz club. Silver Spring needs a jazz club!

Anonymous said...

I passed the Capri everyday on my way to st Micaels school... Saw star wars there as well.... They went to Kung Fu movies and for a long time the marquee read: how Now... The s fell off what should have read show now... Cool place. I worked at the Roths west and east for a summer in 1985... I even spent an evening hurling in the bathroom of the Silver...too many beers accompanied with a chuck Norris movie... Mia2...