Gala Hispanic Theatre

3301 14th Street NW,
Washington, DC 20010

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Rick on February 4, 2017 at 2:40 pm

My first projection booth experience in 1958. I visited the booth and asked the operator what kind of machines the projectors were. He replied “its all Simplex”, to which I answered it look complex to me. I had been told that one wall of the booth had window so patrons could look in. The operator said that had been many years before.

rivest266 on June 20, 2015 at 3:24 pm

April 4th, 1924 grand opening ad in photo section

MediaQueen on May 11, 2011 at 1:26 pm

Great renovation job on what I used see on a daily basis when I lived on Monroe street NW in the mid to late 90s. It was a neglected relic. I remember seeing stray dogs and rats come out of it.

Luis Vazquez
Luis Vazquez on September 21, 2010 at 9:58 am

Why are there no interior photos on their website? Was the interior destroyed? If not, why is it not celebrated and shown on their website?

I am searching Washington DC theaters as a possible wedding venue but am frustrated by the lack of interior photos fro this theater which, to me, implies that the interior is generic.

teecee on November 13, 2009 at 12:02 pm

Drove by on Wednesday. The area has a lot of new construction and appears to be prospering as much as is possible in this economy.

tluzeckyj on May 29, 2009 at 2:42 pm

has anyone seen any photos of the interior of the theatre depicting the Battisi mural painting that are currently undergoing full restoration?

cher on April 21, 2009 at 7:23 am

Does anyone who attended Saturday matinees at the Tivoli in the late 1950s/early 1960s remember the prices of a bag of popcorn and a soda? Thanks!

JackCoursey on February 4, 2009 at 5:20 pm

Here are 2008 photos of what remains of the Tivoli: 1, 2, 3

EcRocker on January 28, 2009 at 3:54 pm

Wow Lost I must have passed by there at least a few dozen times and I never knew it was there.

GSenda on May 12, 2006 at 4:09 am

I have been trying to remember just where this theatre was for years.

In the 50s, I saw House on Haunted Hill, 13 Ghosts, The Tingler there.

All of the above were with the full William Castle props and hoopla including a nurse in the lobby and an ambulance standing by outside.

Not too far away on the other side of 16th Street (towards Conneticut Avenue) was a theatre where I saw South Pacific. On the way to that theatre was one which played Mary Poppins.

About a block away was a 24 hour newstand and a White Tower Hamburger stand.

We moved out of Washington in early 1965 so we did not see the 1965 riots. Though the area was near Georgia Avenue and a lot of buildings were torched.

Out on Connecticut Avenue near the zoo was a theatre which showed Cinerama movies. I saw one or 2 there ( I think it may have been How The West Was Won).

Downtown near the White House was a theatre that played Goldfinger. I was awed by the picture of a two-block long Shirley Eaton and the huge Goldfinger sign.

I also recall the row of strip clubs and theatres near the FBI building and one theatre near the Greyhound Station were we saw the movie Pepe with Cantinflas.

George Senda
Concord, Ca

CFaber on November 7, 2005 at 5:36 am

My grandmother, Mabelle Bowers Thickstun, played the organ for silent movies at the Tivoli in its early days. My father, William R. Thickstun, used to reminisce about sitting next to her on the bench and watching the movies. He remembered the first sound film was not “The Jazz Singer,” but “The Sneeze”.

rlvjr on August 17, 2005 at 12:10 pm

The TIVOLI was without question the grandest and most beautiful neighborhood theatre that ever existed in Washington, DC. With marble lobby, both mezzanine and balcony, orchestra pit, full stage, drapery you could not afford today, and rest rooms bigger than many multiplex auditoriums —– a dazzler. The problem was the location. This once prime neighborhood was increasingly deteriorating into crime-ridden slums. This was capped with the Martin Luther King riots and looting —– with 14th & Park Road near the epicenter of the uncontrolled arson and looting. After Stanley Warner’s gave up on the TIVOLI it operated as a bargain theatre aimed at the black audience; but to no avail. The crime was too severe, and big theaters have crime issues others don’t. For example, the oversized basement rest rooms were perfect for attacking patrons in a time and place where law enforecment was considered old-hat. In the longrun, the neighborhood has seen a revitalization which is hard to believe. Homes that used to be hard core slums totally renovated into housing most folks can’t afford.
As to the renovation of the TIVOLI, I say What good is it? I fondly remember seeing about 100 movies in the old TIVOLI. But there is not any “New” TIVOLI. No, it’s just a staging area for video stores, a drug store, et cetera. A 250 seat Hispanic theater in the former balcony? That’s nice, but so what? The TIVOLI now has a nice entrance, facade, lobby —– BUT NO THEATER! It’s pointless.

chuckedee on June 30, 2005 at 1:53 pm

I attended movies at this grand theater from 1955-59, when I was a college student in Washington. The ambience of this “palace” was superb. The projection and sound systems were next to perfect. The seating was plush with beautiful carpeting and efect lighting making the visit a truly marvelous experience. I worked as a projectionist in a theater as a high school student so I can give an honest critique. To restore this treasure would really be a credit to the investors and the District of Columbia.
James E. Carter-Augusta, GA

DavidGreenbaum on January 20, 2005 at 8:31 am

I am the theater architect for the non-profit theater company taking the upper balcony space at the Tivoli. We are one piece of this important project for a vibrant, but less economically fortunate community in Washington DC.

We provide cultural design, historic preservation and adaptive use services and have worked on many nationally land marked facilities that have resulted in design awards and recognition.

Although this theater was compromised on the inside from the beginning by developer requirements, we can’t think of a better development model for a building that had failed to attain any interest for restoration in the past 25 years. This theater was crumbling every day and would have been totally destroyed by neglect. The developer created new rentable areas by adding floor levels in the theatre house and stage.

Gala Hispanic Theatre was initially offered a 6,000 sf rectangular space behind the retail spaces on the first floor by the developer. The proportions of the space were insufficient to meet the very basics of theater design, let alone exhibit civic pride. SmithGroup proposed going up under the dome on the second floor, not only preserve a piece of history for all to see, but to help bring together a community in need of healing. SmithGroup, Gala, Horning Brothers and their building architects worked together to achieve a solution retaining the balcony and much of the original theater ceiling. The resulting 11,000 sf scheme put the theater stage and house on the second floor, the lobby and dressing rooms on a lower mezzanine and storage space in the basement.

Gala Hispanic Theater is not Broadway, it is not community theater; it stands for Hispanic dramatic tradition blended with contemporary urban interpretation. Gala is mindful of its audience and its place in the community. We intentionally created an architecture expressive of the Gala’s mission. We developed a proscenium theater dropped into an historic envelope. Are we compromised because we do not have fly space or abundant wing space? Perhaps for certain productions, but to Gala it was more important to promote the intimacy and atmosphere that will make the theatre truly unique. To re-quote Michael Kahn from the Shakespeare Theater your article, “Part of your style is determined by the architecture of the room you are in.”

This is a small theater, about 250 seats, but it is a vibrant part of Washington culture and strives to be the first national Hispanic theater in the United States. Although they have modest means, Gala proves to be the cultural anchor of the new Tivoli development and stands a good chance of helping unite the community of Columbia Heights with a new performance space available for use by other performers and venues.

Not all projects can be measured by the same benchmarks. Each project has limitations that dictate certain compromises from what is conceived as an ideal. Given our constraints, we achieved quite a bit. The result is not perfect, but is far better than what we started with.

Cordially, David Greenbaum FAIA.

Please see the link below for renderings of the design solution and the following note on more project background.

View link

Project Background

CLIENT Grupo de Artistas Latinoamericanos (GALA)
2437 15th St., NW
Washington, DC 20009

1825 Eye St., NW, Suite 250
Washington, DC 20006

DEVELOPER Tivoli Partners:
Horning Brothers
Ft. Lincoln Realty
Winston Development
Development Corporation of Columbia Heights

The new Grupo de Artistas Latinoamericanos (GALA) Hispanic Theatre takes advantage of the redevelopment of the historic Tivoli Theater in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington, DC. While the overall project, Tivoli Square, is being developed by Tivoli Partners, GALA began working with SmithGroup as its tenant architect in Spring 2001 to lead the development of the design of the theater space itself.

The Tivoli Theater and GALA bring together the District’s history and its diverse culture. Built in 1924, the Tivoli Theater is a magnificent historic building with a long and rich history. Originally a 2000-seat movie theater, it survived the riots in the 1960s and now serves as a physical reminder of the vibrant nature of the Columbia Heights community.

GALA has been serving the local community through Spanish-language and bilingual artistic productions since 1976. Known for supporting local and Latin American artists, GALA also exposes young people to the arts in both Spanish and English. In addition, GALA collaborates with other community arts organizations in order to support a variety of workshop programs and public performance opportunities for 13- to 17-year-olds.

GALA’s new permanent home, will provide a dynamic arts space for an often overlooked multicultural neighborhood. As the cultural anchor of the Tivoli Square development, the GALA Hispanic Theatre is positioned to be a catalyst for additional community development and activities.

Key to the success of the theater was making sure it would be situated in a prominent, accessible location within the historic theater building. Working collaboratively with the developer, base building architect and preservation architect, SmithGroup was able gain consensus to locate the new 250-seat theatre under the historic dome of the old theater at the balcony level, ensuring public access to this cultural gem.

The new theatre space will allow GALA to serve the community better, continue developing programs to meet the needs of the area’s rapidly growing Latino population, and broaden the organization’s audiences. The facility will feature stage and seating underneath the historic dome; rehearsal and workshop space; library, script and archive collection space; exhibition space for visual artists; a simultaneous interpretation system; film projection facilities; and concession area.

To create this new space, SmithGroup inserted the new theater into the existing historic envelope of the old theater. The architectural language is at once traditional and modern to reinforce GALA’s character as a performing arts company, which ranges from classical to contemporary; the new architecture’s slightly gritty, urban feel contrasts with the restored beaux-arts decorative plaster ceiling and walls.

Set on top of the former Tivoli Theater’s balcony, the new theater house design uses the existing balcony’s stepped concrete for its seating. Adding “shoulders” gives the house a more intimate scale. The stage floor has been placed under the main historic dome, and an aluminum lighting /rigging truss system defines the performance area. The dome, ceiling and original proscenium remain visible, becoming an integral part of the theater aesthetics. The exposed historic decorative pilasters and infill panels will be relined with acoustical fabric. In contrast, the new walls are covered in bronze aluminum coiled drapery.

The lobby is an entirely new space formed by a new floor and tucked underneath the stage area. The vibrant design echoes the vitality of the theater company and the Latino creative spirit. A curved wall for art dominates the lobby, while the concessions bar creates a focal counterpoint within the space.

Project Size: 11,000 square feet

Project Cost: $3,300,000

DCcinema on December 27, 2004 at 12:03 pm

There are more updated pictures of the Tivoli Theater at The new signs and lights really seem to light up the area at night.

Ken Roe
Ken Roe on December 22, 2004 at 5:23 am

The original opening date of the Tivoli Theater was 5th April 1924 with the movie “Painted People” starring Colleen Moore on the screen and Fred Waring’s Pennsylvanians on stage.

The opening seating capacity claimed to be 2,500, later reduced to 1,975.

It closed in 1976 and has remained empty and boarded up…….until now, December 2004.

dcrick2004 on December 21, 2004 at 6:39 pm

The Tivoli restoration is almost complete. In fate the marquee and the theatre was lighted for the first time in over 25 years just last week.

RobertR on October 4, 2004 at 7:40 am

The way they describe keeping the lobby and just using the balcony is similar to The Colliseum Cinemas here in NY.

DCcinema on August 12, 2004 at 5:04 am

There are pictures of the Tivoli construction at

edward on March 24, 2004 at 5:33 pm

The restoration project is a commendable but the new theatre design is pretty unimpressive. It looks like a balcony cinema left over from a bad multiplexing job. The lighting grid obscures most of the dome. I suppose it’s better than no renovation at all, but barely at 250 seats.

JosephHorning on March 24, 2004 at 2:44 pm

FOr information on the restoration/renovation of the Tivoli Theater, see
The original architect was Thomas W. Lamb.

William on November 20, 2003 at 4:52 pm

The Tivoli Theatre is located at 3301 14th Street and it seated 1772 people.

LarryLong on November 29, 2002 at 12:34 pm

My mother in-laws father and grandfather were invovled with the operations of many of the theaters built in Washington DC, before they were eventually sold to Warner Brothers. I’m wondering if you are familiar with Harry Crandall (grandfather), and John Palette (father). They built such theatres as the Warner, and the Tivoli, which is now being restored. I’m interested in any other pictures you might have of those and other theatres in the DC area.