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An Application for Historic Designation of Bloomingdale’s Sylvan Theatre

  • April 12, 2019

by Nena Perry-Brown

The former Sylvan Theater, courtesy of Popville. Click to enlarge.

The DC Preservation League has applied to seek historic landmark designation for the American Theater, a single-story building in Bloomingdale.

Located at 104-108 Rhode Island Avenue NW (map), the structure was constructed as the “American Theatre” in 1913, then renovated and rebranded as the “Sylvan Theatre” in 1930.

While the theater only admitted white audiences for the first several decades it was open, the Black American Theater (BAT) took over the space in the late 1960s, establishing the first Black-operated commercial theater in the District. The application identifies the Theatre’s period of significance as 1913 through 1972, when BAT vacated.

The theatre was designed by Nicholas T. Haller, who, with the exception of the landmarked Warder Building at 527 9th Street NW, is more known for residential construction. The application also identifies the American Theatre as the only theater in the District constructed during the “first palace” era of theater construction (from 1913-1916) that is still standing. Now, the building is split into four commercial spaces, including Boundary Stone, and the upper portion of the façade is nearly the same as it was when the building was first constructed, except for the added Sylvan Theater sign.

"The American Theater represents the transition from storefront nickelodeons to purpose-built large scale neighborhood motion picture theaters," the application explains. "It may well be the oldest purpose-built movie theater in the District that shows substantial integrity, and it qualifies for listing under District of Columbia Criteria D through F and similar National Register Criterion C because it embodies the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, style, and method of
construction."

The Historic Preservation Review Board is expected to consider the application later this month.

This article originally published at http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/an-application-for-historic-designation-of-bloomingdales-sylvan-theatre/15251

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