Circle Theatre

2103 Pennsylvania Avenue NW,
Washington, DC 20037

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Additional Info

Previously operated by: Circle Theatres

Architects: Alfred Bult Mullett, Luthor R. Ray

Firms: Alfred B. Mullett & Co

Styles: Art Deco

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Circle Theatre

The Circle Theatre was opened in March 1910, a conversion of a retail store in a three-story Federal style building with the Circle Theatre designed by architectural firm Albert B. Mullett & Co. It had an elaborately decorated interior in green color with ivory. In the summer of 1935 it was enlarged and remodeled in an Art Deco style to the plans of architect Luthor R. Ray. The Circle’s Art Deco stylings were a bit tattered by the time it became a repertory house in the 1970’s and 1980’s showing double features with a matinee of only $1 (full price was $2).

Many homeless people found comfort in the not-so-comfortable chairs.

The screen was small, the house lights were dark, the Deco style trimmings were crumbling, but it was a popular haunt for older films.

The theatre was adjacent to the Inner Circle Theatre (1968-1986) which ran first and second run movies and shared its entrance (it has its own page on Cinema Treasures).

Both theatres were closed in September 1986 and were demolished to make way for a new 5-screen Circle Theatre which was due to open in December 1988 (it was never built) and the site became a parking garage.

Contributed by Paul Schwartz

Recent comments (view all 29 comments)

deeceevoice on November 17, 2015 at 10:47 pm

The Circle Theatre was one of a stable of theaters (along with The Inner Circle and The Outer Circle) owned by the Pedas Brothers at 21st and Pennsylvania Ave., N.W. It specialized in “repertory cinema.” There was a regular collection of film classics that played there in steady rotation, and if you shelled out $10 for a book of ten tickets, you could catch a double feature for a dollar. And back then, popcorn didn’t cost you an arm and a leg.

Those were the days. :)

deeceevoice on November 17, 2015 at 10:50 pm

The Circle West End is the only Circle movie house remaining in D.C., but I don’t think it’s still owned by the Pedas Brothers.

Betzee on July 2, 2016 at 1:20 pm

As a graduate student at GWU from 1984 to 1986, I spent a fair bit of time in the Circle Theatre. I can remember one evening screening in which a homeless man was sleeping in the back. When he woke up and began to mutter loudly part way through the film, members of the audience initially didn’t know what was going on. The Circle was a bit down on its heels, but still a beloved art house and repertory fixture of the Washington arts scene.

Hobartt on January 25, 2017 at 2:11 pm

Three memories. 1. Standing in the back pacing and smoking nervous as a cat watching Dylan’s Renaldo and Clara, a painfully intimate film…one of the very few showings of the uncut version before Bob pulled it.

  1. Being consumed in the fog of Anna Christie…literally losing the line of consciousness and aswirl in the mists of dream, film, and some timeless void apart from both…(true of the 30’s films shown there like Grand Hotel or Morocco). The Pedas Bros. owned rarely played and pristine prints, I believe, which made the retrospective showings feel like they were immediate a first run. The theater was a virtual time machine. The audiences were a mix of ‘70’s hipsters and people who had seen the films first run.

  2. The analog clock, blue lit, dimly visible and discreet, on the upper left of the screen, which taught me about editorial rhythm, film time as it relates to quotidian time and 24fps.


Toadthecat on January 25, 2017 at 3:11 pm

I go back to the 40’s & 50’s. 21st. & Penn was a residential ares at that time. Row houses and brownstones on Pennsylvania Ave. Hundreds of kids on Saturday afternoon. Double feature. Always western. Tom Mix, Hopalong Cassidy, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry and many others. But first there was the newsreels and then cartoons. Then we had the serials. Always leaving you in suspence until the next week.We were always rooting for the good guys. Booing and hissing at the baddies. You always heard a lot of yucks if there was a kissing. Unless the hero was kissing his horse. Popcorn and candy wrappers all over the place. They did not allow soda in those days. Outside were all over the place. I don’t recall ever seeing a bike locked. When it was over and the movie let out, 21st. & Penn was closed and all of the kids come out like a bunch nuts. Whooping and hollering and acting like a bunch of nuts. No trouble, We had a wonderful Saturday afternoon, every week. All for the price 15 cents. Great memories. No homeless and no clock.

indykelley on January 25, 2018 at 7:09 pm

A critical part of my film education. I was taking filmmaking courses in Workshop for Careers in the Arts (which became the seed of the Duke Ellington School for the Performing Arts), and the Circle Theater, which was a repertory film theater, showed Hollywood and foreign films for $1 until the jacked the price up to $2!!

DavidZornig on July 23, 2019 at 7:09 pm

1981 photo added credit Mike Arian. Via Bill Geerhart courtesy Old Time D.C. Facebook page.

DavidZornig on October 28, 2019 at 9:52 am

A 1986 video of the “Saving The Circle” effort.

MichaelWDean on July 19, 2021 at 12:04 pm

Several years ago, I was saddened to learn that the Circle Theatre had been demolished to make way for a parking garage. When I was stationed in D.C. (1971-1975), I discovered the Circle Theatre when it was operating as a repertory cinema. It would show double features that would be shown for only 1 or 2 days. During those years, I got to see movies that I could read about but thought I would never get to see (this was before the explosion of home video). My first visit was to see an early U.S. showing of Akira Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai” in its uncut 200+ minute version. It also provided the opportunity to see classics such as “Citizen Kane” as well as a double feature of Sergei Eisenstein’s “Ivan the Terrible” (parts One and Two) on the big screen. There were also showings of more current films such as George A. Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead.” During that period Japanese or “samurai” film festivals became popular and would also be held at The Dupont and the Cerberus. At the Circle you could buy a book of ten tickets for only $10.00 and the tickets could be used any time and even for guests you brought with you. I went through a number of those books of tickets. The Circle Theatre had a fixed standard academy (1.33:1) screen and would show widescreen films in their full width by using a longer focal length projection lens so that it would appear like a “letterboxed” image on home video. The Circle Theatre was a haven during my stay in D.C.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on July 25, 2021 at 4:37 am

The Circle Theatre, as a repertory cinema, had programming very similar to the beloved Thalia in New York, with its double bills (mostly) of international and domestic movies from all periods.

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