7719, Wisconsin Avenue (MD 355), Bethesda, Montgomery County
The Bethesda Theatre, constructed in 1938 at 7719 Wisconsin Avenue, is a multi-level building composed of rectangular blocks: an auditorium block and a lower street-front lobby and entrance block, including shops. The principal facade, facing west, is of blond brick, and divided into three parts, consisting of flanking shops with large show windows and the theatre entrance, which is topped by a theatre marquee and marquee tower in the form of a miniature skyscraper with "BETHESDA" spelled vertically in neon letters. Directly behind the marquee and tower is a low parapet wall of blond brick accented at the edges of the marquee tower an at the corners with horizontal bands of glazed black brick. This parapet wall differentiates the theatre entrance from the flanking storefronts. The ends of this parapet wall turn toward the rear of the building for about 20 feet, ending with curved returns. About 30 feet behind this first parapet wall (across a flat roof) is a second parapet wall, also of blond brick with black horizontal accent bands at the corners and decorative vertical elements in a ribbed pattern. This parapet wall extends the full length of the theatre, marking the internal division between the standard-height ceilings of the storefronts, theatre entrance, and lobby and the taller ceiling of the theatre auditorium. Behind the second parapet wall can be seen portions of the irregular roof of the auditorium covered with dark-colored roofing material. The south side of the theatre, which overlooks an alley, is faced with blond brick extending back approximately 50 feet, where it is succeeded by red brick construction. The rear of the building, overlooking a parking lot, is also built of red brick. At the sidewalk, the theatre entry has a central ticket booth, trimmed in grooved aluminum, flanked by recessed theatre entrances, with aluminum-trimmed movie notice cases at either end of the arrangement. The base of this section is trimmed with green serpentine, a siding material similar to marble. Each theatre entrance consists of four doors which together present an Art Deco design in the size and shape of their glass lights. The interior of the theatre retains its original space configuration of lobby, foyer, lounges, and auditorium. Many original interior finishes, including painted murals, remain intact, with the exception of the original seating.
The Bethesda Theatre is locally significant for several reasons. It is a highly significant example of a 1930s Art Deco neighborhood cinema designed by the firm of the world-renowned "Dean of American Theatre Architects," John Eberson. It was the premier facility in the regionally important chain of independent movie theatres operated by Sidney Lust. As a major contributor to the development of the central business district of Bethesda, Maryland, it played a significant role in not only the history of the Bethesda community, but also in the 20th century suburbanization of the National Capital region. Additionally, in the geographical contexts of Montgomery County and the National Capital region, the Bethesda Theatre is now a rare example of an Art Deco neighborhood cinema from Hollywood's Golden Age.