Iconic Old Town Theater in Alexandria closes its doors

Originally called the Richmond Theater, the space opened in 1914 as a moving picture house complete with bowling and billiards. (WTOP Photo/Kathy Stewart)

Kathy Stewart, WTOP news

WASHINGTON – There will be one less place to cozy up and catch a movie as a landmark theater prepares to close forever. This is the final weekend for the Old Town Theater on King Street in Alexandria, which shows its last movie Sunday evening.

Originally called the Richmond Theater, the space opened in 1914 as a moving picture house complete with bowling and billiards. It was the first theater in Alexandria, and eventually became a destination for dancing and vaudeville. Over the years, it also hosted puppet shows and lessons before becoming a full-time movie theater.

After nine years as the theater’s owner and managing partner, Roger Fons says he can’t keep throwing money at it without turning a profit.

“It’s been a real rough time for me, especially the last year,” he says. “I lost about $150,000.”

He regrets having to close, but says he’s too old to work 12 to 14 hours, seven days a week.

Fons blames the tough economy for the closing, including factors like a major drop in tickets sales, expensive street parking and employee theft.

The King Street Trolley did not help, he says. It takes people from the King Street Metro Station right to the waterfront without stopping in between.

The theater will probably be replaced with a discount retail store. Fons says the new owner will put in “a Ross or something like that.” Even the icon marquee will be ripped down.

Zia Oatley, who lives in Old Town, is sad to see the theater close. But she laughs when she learns one of the final films shown is “Mission Impossible.”

“Looks like this was a mission impossible,” she says, referring to the battle Fons has waged trying to keep the business open.

Others who stopped by the theater were surprised and saddened to learn it was closing. Many in the community see the theater as a piece of Old Town history, an institution.

Old Town resident Kendra Davis says she loved the popcorn and wine at the theater.

“What a shame. I love this theater,” she says. “It’s such a sense of our history here.”

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