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Lost Washington: The Savoy Theater

Savoy facade
The Savoy was originally built in the Colonial Revival style in 1913 near the intersection of 14th Street and Columbia Rd., NW. In 1916, the Savoy Theater company sold the building to Harry M. Crandall, Washington's early movie mogul. The Savoy was his fourth theater, Crandall's goal being to have a movie house in every Washington neighborhood.

After purchasing the Savoy, Crandall closed the theater for two months for extensive renovations. When he reopened in September of 1916, and after spending several thousand dollars more, the changes were reported as being so radical, with decorations so elaboration both inside and out, that patrons familiar with the old theater had a hard time believing the new Beaux Arts inspired structure was the same place.

Savoy lobby
The most striking change was the addition of a balcony, increasing the seating capacity to more than 1,400. To accommodate this, the roof was raised.

Savoy interior 1
Another distinctive feature was the marquise, which extended the entire width of the building. The spacious lobby was adorned by pillars of green marble, caen stone walls, gold lacquered mirrors, and art panels. The colors of the lobby were described as being primarily of ivory and rose.

Savoy interior 2
On the exterior, Crandall installed electric lights, including a great sign that flashed the name of the theater making it viewable for a considerable distance.

An interesting feature of the Savoy was a trellised open-air theater to the right and behind which allowed audiences to watch movies outside during Washington's muggy summer evenings. This space later disappeared.

Savoy outdoor theater

Later, the Savoy enjoyed success as a third-run house, playing films exactly one week after they played at the Tivoli, the Tivoli charging 15 cents more than the Savoy's ticket price of 40 cents ca. 1950.

Ultimately, the Savoy was burned in the April riots of 1968 and razed in 1971.

Kent Boese posts items of historic interest primarily within the District. He's worked in libraries since 1994, both federal and law, and currently works on K Street. He's been an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner serving the northern Columbia Heights and Park View neighborhoods since 2011 (ANC 1A), and is the force behind the blog Park View, D.C.



There have been so many old movie and Vaudeville houses in DC demolished it just aint funny. It was really a war on old movie houses right up into the 90's, when someone got the idea to turn them inot "brewhouses" thus saving a precious few.My dad told me that he saw Al Jolson play at the Tivoli- I will have to ask him about the Savoy. I'm sure I passed by it as a kid and didnt even know it.

People who come here have no idea what we have lost to riots , interlopers & developers in old DC...

by w on Jun 9, 2009 3:40 pm • linkreport

So sad!! What are they thinking when they deside to demolish and razor the great buildings, who is si importaint. In that way, that peopel have to know the past to understand the future, and the present time.. Why not keep it old buildings as memorial buildings/museum. Even if it,s impossible to use the building itselvf. But so we who live today, can remember and admire the buildings that who in fact are a part of our history..

And RIP to all the persons who died in the knickerbocker tragedy...

by anicath on Jan 3, 2010 10:51 am • linkreport

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