Not far from the downtown Silver Spring and its immaculately-restored Silver Theatre lies another theater from Silver Spring's suburban boomtown heyday - the Flower. While not as old or elegant as the Art Deco Silver, the theater is nonetheless still interesting.
Located on Flower Avenue in the Long Branch neighborhood of Silver Spring, the Flower showed its last film about fifteen years ago. As the owners having been unable to find a suitable tenant for the past three years, the building continues to be available for lease. That's not unsurprising, as the uses for a former movie theater are somewhat limited. It would likely require quite a bit of investment to get this property rehabbed for most commercial uses.
|The Flower Today|
A short(ish) history of the Flower Theatre:
K-B first opened the single screen, 1,016 seat Flower Theatre on February 15th, 1950. To put its size in perspective, the AFI Silver's main theater has 400 seats and the District's Uptown Theatre presently has 840 (though it originally held 1,364). At the time it opened, the theater offered 600 parking spots, which can be seen in this 1957 aerial photo of the neighborhood. The film shown on opening night was The Great Lover, starring Bob Hope.
|Interior of the Flower Theatre, 1950. Note the flower design on the wall.|
A nursery, which has 21 seats where parents and small fry can make all the caterwauling they please behind a plate glass window, double-panes to prevent distortion. The walls are colored with cartoons and there’s space behind the chairs for the small fry to cavort, thus saving sitter expense at home.This was an elegant theater for a more civilized age...
The Flower must have been considered to be of at least some import at the time, as its interior was featured on the cover of movie theater trade magazine Boxoffice later that year.
|The Flower and the Adjacent Giant Food in the Early 60's (?)|
K-B operated the Flower as a single-screen theater until 1979. A year later, a new operator re-opened it after bisecting the single theater into two separate screens. Two additional screens were tacked on in 1983, and if I recall correctly these last two theaters were very tiny. The theater finally ceased operations in 1996 due to flooding. As is the case with many shuttered theaters, including the old Seco/Roth's Silver Spring West downtown, it eventually went into use as a church. The church vacated in 2008 and the property has stood empty ever since.
Here's a photo of the theater from 1983, when it was showing Getting it On and Mr. Mom. It looks to have been taken when there were still just two screens.
|Flower Theatre, 1983|
|Flower Theatre, 1985. Apologies for the watermark.|
(Coincidentally I happened to see Starman, the name of which is visible on the marquee, at this theater. Why I remember this one out of all the movies I saw here, I don't know. This is the second instance of my coming across old photos of cinemas showing films I expressly recall seeing at that particular theater. The first occurrence of this phenomenon was this 1984 photo of the Silver Theatre, taken at the time the it was showing Star Trek III. Maybe I just saw a lot of movies.)
So, now the question is what can be done with the Flower? Abandoned movie theaters are a huge liability. If left empty, a theater will eventually become a hive of homeless murderers and rapists. Yes, this is absolutely the case. I learned this from watching 12 Monkeys.
What viable commercial enterprises could take advantage of this sized space and would be able to commit to the necessary investment required to renovate an entire theater? To the dismay of many, a number of the District's old movie houses (the MacArthur comes to mind) were closed and converted into pedestrian retail establishments such as drug stores. That solution might be economically viable, but it's boring and certainly not a preferred option in this case.
Of course, the surrounding area has some problems, and the shopping plaza's other tenants include a laundromat and dollar store, so it's not exactly high-end retail on that block at present. On the other hand, if they can re-brand an entire "district" around a theater in D.C. (a district within a district?) and make it hip, perhaps something similar can be accomplished in Long Branch.
The adaptive reuse of the Flower is part of the planning department's Long Branch Sector Plan (PDF), which defines the theater as a "historic resource" but is short on details on exactly how the theater might be utilized. Supposedly the Purple Line will someday be built and if/when it does, it will stop just a block of so away, making the whatever the Flower ultimately becomes easily accessible to many from outside of the neighborhood.
The most welcome solution would be to have it turned into sort of annex for the AFI, but that's unlikely to happen. It has been suggested that the county could perhaps assist the Silver Spring Stage in relocating from their current home in the bowels of the Woodmoor Shopping Center to the Flower. Would that be too much space for them, though? Also, would they have the resources to perform the amount of work that needs to be done to the theater to get it up to snuff?
So, any brilliant ideas out there on what could be done with the Flower?
Also, in the event that anyone has photos (older or recent) of the interior, please send them to me. Someone was nice enough to provide some recent pictures of one of Silver Spring's other long-defunct theaters.
Much of the information I found on the Flower originated from the website Cinematreasures.org. For a detailed history of the Flower Shopping Center and the historical significance of the theater (or lack thereof) read this (PDF).