Ontario Theatre

1700 Columbia Road NW,
Washington, DC 20009

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Showing 26 - 36 of 36 comments

drusefton on November 2, 2008 at 8:16 am

Anyone here like to get involved with restoring the theater? Some Adams Morgan residents are kicking around the idea of forming an exploration committee for turning the building into a sort of flea market/theater featuring Spanish language flicks as well as DC indie offerings, retro B&W’s, that type of stuff. Grab a homemade treat from a local vendor in the lobby, watch the movie. It could also be a community meeting place for nonprofits and other groups. If you’d like to participate — even just by emailing suggestions on funding sources — drop a line to drusefton at hotmail dot com.

sstrack on August 4, 2008 at 2:16 pm

Another fine KB Theatre as my old friend, Bruce Burns, remembers it. We were both there for the grand (Washington) openings of The Longest Day and Lawrence of Arabia. Search light trucks, the DC National Guard Honor Guard, Bobby and Ethel Kennedy – The Longest Day opening was quite an impressive night. KB went hard ticket – all reserved seating for both films and 70mm that required the removal of a couple of rows of seats up front. Lawrence of Arabia was spectacular on that screen – the scene when he blows out the match and the sun lights up the screen – what a cut. Yes Bruce, Omar was there – I had the privilege of asking him to take his lighted cigarette upstairs to the lounge – the only time I ever spoke to a movie star.

Harvey on March 25, 2008 at 5:03 pm

Our Own Outrageous Ontario

Washington Post, The (DC) – October 30, 1981
Author: Michael Kernan

IT IS 7:30 on a Saturday night, and the Ontario Theater is embarking on a marathon of the three “Omen” movies, one after the other. Thirty people are rattling around in the great dark chamber which has room for 1,100. The floor isn’t canted, to speak of, but the huge screen is so high that it doesn’t matter. A stage projects several yards in front of it. The place is clean, amazingly clean.

“We have three films every night,” says Seth Hurwitz, the former manager who now books pictures for the Ontario when he isn’t running his own booking company, IMP (“(It’s May Party”). “Three movies for $3, it’s a gimmick. I go to all the screenings of first-run pictures and only use proven hits. The neighborhood is changing, and we try to keep that in mind.”

The neighborhood is perhaps Washington’s most interesting, Adams-Morgan, the Columbia Road area between 16th and Connecticut. Blacks, whites, Latinos, artists, embassy people, white-haired apartment dwellers … and he’s right, it is changing, and the prices are going up.

“I tried ‘Elephant Man,’ and that didn’t go. I tried ‘Straw Dogs,’ which has plenty of violence, but it didn’t go. I put the classic ‘Freaks’ in with ‘The Fantastic Animation Festival,’ but that didn’t work either. But they loved ‘Gloria,’ which is a classy movie but violent.”

Now the audience is building. People drift in steadily, paying no attention to the movie times. A group, laden with cups, pails and bushel baskets of popcorn, files in and settles itself. On the screen, David Warner is being nastily beheaded by sheet glass, the sound track is screaming and blood is pumping, but the talkative newcomers don’t bother to look.

Recently a local magazine attacked the Ontario for running so much violence, notably the sadistic “I Spit on Your Grave.” Hurwitz and the present manager, Carlos Rosario, say they are doing their best to upgrade the product while still making a living. On weekends the theater shows Spanish-language films, mostly Mexican, with the occasional Cantinflas comedy (no subtitles). These do very well indeed.The live rock concerts also do well.

“It’s expensive to operate as a concert Hall,” Hurwitz says, “because there are no lights or sound, everything has to be brought in and taken out. We pick them carefully, charge $8 or $9, you have to be sure you have a hit. We had three this year, all sellouts.”

One problem is making the theater attractive to suburban kids who might feel threatened by the neighborhood and perhaps don’t understand the uninhibited Columbia Road audiences. The Ontario goes out of its way to have police protection at concerts and a couple of black-belt bouncers hanging around … “They’re kids themselves, and they’re concerned mainly with the fire regulations. It’s a happy group, a little noisy, but we’ve never had any trouble,” Hurwitz says.

The first “Omen” picture is over, and more people drift in from the black-marble-and-mirror lobby designed by Marvin Goldman when K-B Theaters took over the place in 1958. Someone calls to a friend clear across the theater. the friend shouts happily back. Small children run up and down the aisles. Everyone seems immune to the film’s determined spookiness. It is only when the action explodes that the chatter stops, like crickets in the country when a car passes.

“ Outrageous is our byword,” Hurwitz says. “We don’t do any X-rated stuff. I would say the ideal combination was ‘Dawn of the Dead’ and ‘halloween II.’ The perfect Ontario movie. Sometimes they come in late and don’t like it and demand their money back, or they want to pay $1 just to see the last picture.”

For several years he tried to run hard-ticket reserved-seat programs at the Ontario , but it was no good. The turning point came in March 1979, when Bruce Lee’s “Enter the Dragon” opened, and receipts went through the roof. Since then, the Ontario Theater has provided a fascinating study in esthetics, teetering delicately on the razor’s edge between art and money. It’s also the last word in community movie theaters.

The other night they had a ridiculous picture called “Dracula’s Dog.” A guy came up to the box office and said, “I didnt know dracula had no dawg.” But he paid his $3 and went in anyway.

Zoomlenz on March 18, 2008 at 9:27 am

Kubrick’s “Lolita” opened at the Ontario in summer 1962. The policy was: no one admitted under 17. However, after a few weeks, I recall the small Wash.Post ad for the movie as saying: “Looking for a Laugh?” with photos of Peter Sellers and Shelley Winters.

JodarMovieFan on January 1, 2008 at 5:39 pm

On closer examination of the ad, it appears there was something called a “Columbia” room for private screenings of smaller groups.


JodarMovieFan on January 1, 2008 at 5:36 pm

According to opening day newsprint ads, this theater boasted a 1400 patron seating capacity, which would make it larger than the Uptown’s, including balcony seating, with evening admission prices of the cost of 75cents!

GSenda on May 12, 2006 at 7:44 am

This must be where I saw Mary Poppins because it was on the way to the theatre where South Pacific played.

I mostly saw movies near Georgia Avenue and at the Post Theatre in Fort Belvoir.

George Senda
Concord Ca

bruceburns on April 20, 2006 at 2:01 pm

I worked at the Ontario with KB Theatres during its Hay Day. I was there as a relief manager on many occasions. One of its finest hours was the US premier of Lawrence of Arabia. The producer and director were there along with Omar Sharif(sp), who was a co star. The theater had parking available at the Kalarama Garage about two blocks away. The theater provided a shuttle back and forth. It was a great place to see movies on a very large screen with surround sound. Even at that time, however, you knew there would be problems because of the neighborhood. I drove by about 6 months ago and saw it was some sort of a store.

rlvjr on September 30, 2005 at 12:36 pm

THE ONTARIO was never an old neighborhood theater, never played “The Tingler” (it played the nearby Ambassador) and did not close for lack of parking.
Opened in the 1950’s by the KB Chain, the ONTARIO was to be their new addition to Washington DC’s first run theater scene. They were successful in booking outstanding exclusive first runs such as…
THE KEY (William Holden, Sophia Loren)
BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S…. to name just a few.
The superb location on Columbia Road just 2 blocks from DC’s glorious 16th Street corridor not only placed it in the beautiful Mount Pleasant neighborhood but also at the crossroads of public transport. It was a pleasure to go there.
In the aftermath of the MLK Riots of 66, crime spread like weeds throughout Washington, and law enforcement was liberal (read that NIL). The Columbia Road area became the #1 drive-by-shooting zone of the city, and the murder rate went through the roof. There was no lack of parking during the ONTARIO’s final years. You could park a block or two away (as I used to) and risk your life or wallet.
With the demise of Washington’s crime-prone coke-using mayor Marion Barry [D] crime has fallen and the Mount Pleasant area is pretty safe again. The ONTARIO is a bargain bazaar kind of place now.

NickCoston on August 16, 2005 at 10:28 am

I bartended there when they used to have bands play in 1984-85 right before they fixed the place up.
It was a great single screen theatre, nice sight lines. Now it’s a CVS (the auditorium) and some inde owner bag shop in the lobby.
No parking killed this place.

Falkenberg2001 on April 24, 2004 at 10:46 am

I don’t see it on the site, but there was a theatre on Georgia Avenue near the intersection of Columbia Road in which I saw the original showing of The Tingler with Vincent Price and the tingler devices were under the seat (and worked !) and a nurse was in the lobby with an ambulance outside and all the attendant William Castle posters and hype too. I also saw House On Haunted Hill and 13 Ghosts there. There was a newstand about a block away that was open 24 hours. We moved away in 1964 so that should date it a little.

George Senda
Concord, Ca