Development of Historic Theatre in Adams Morgan Underway

The razing of The Ontario Theatre, located at Columbia and Ontario roads NW in Adams Morgan, started about in late Spring as metal fences and Bob Cat trucks replaced the unfettered loiters who called the corner home for the past two decades.

It is the first stage of the construction process that will ultimately lead to a five-story, 75-unit condominium with 15,000 feet of retail space on the ground level.

The owner of the building, George Pedas, who proposed the plans to the Adams Morgan Advisory Neighborhood Commission in 2011, crafted the plans. In the same year the Historic Washington Architecture, Inc., attempted to save the building by applying to have the theatre landmarked as a historic building due to its 1950’s specific architecture and rich history. It had been abandoned for 20 years,

At the time it was built in 1951, the Ontario Theatre was one of the largest movie theatres in the District of Columbia.  It hosted the city’s premiere showing of The Sound of Music, Mary Poppins and Lawrence of Arabia. The theater also played a role in D.C.’s live music scene, hosting U2, Blondie, The Taking Heads and many others in the late 1970s.  It was also the first home to music promoter Seth Hurwitz before he took over the 9:30 Club on V Street NW.

The theatre closed in 1987. The location thereafter housed a myriad of retailers, including a discount furniture store.

The graffitied and dilapidated appearance of the theatre lead many to assume that the property was of little value, knowing only its history as a retail store, and considered the building an eye sore.

The Historic Washington Architecture, Inc. withdrew its landmark application in January 2012, shortly before it was due to be reviewed.  The organization settled with working with the owner and developers, Potomac Development Group, to keep certain aspects of the historical façade in the new construction, more specifically the canopy extending over the corner of Columbia and Ontario roads and the two-sided movie poster display attached to the marquee.

For some who work and live around the theatre, the construction is a welcome sight.

“I didn’t really care about how it looked before,” said Lee Eun, the owner of a dry cleaning business across the street from the theatre. “The apartments will be good for business though.”

Eun was just one of the many Adams Morgan locals who know nothing about the theatre’s history. An employee at the liquor store next door could only identify it as a furniture store.

No matter the possession of knowledge, or lack of it, the general consensus from those familiar with the location is that is it an eyesore, and they are glad something is being done with it.

“It’s a pretty awesome building. I’m fine with condos, but they should certainly do something cool with the ground floor. Can’t just give historic preservation to everything,” said a commenter on www.popville.com, a blog about D.C.’s neighborhoods.

Another on Washington City Paper’s website simply says, “awesome, would love to see this happen.”

Potomac Development Group has yet to respond to when the project will be completed.