John Jacob Zink, Architect

The drawing submitted for approval of the of the building design in 1922. Note that it shows stucco and columns on the side of the auditorium. These were considered unnecessary and were deleted.
The drawing submitted for approval of the of the building design in 1922. Note that it shows stucco and columns on the side of the auditorium. These were considered unnecessary and were deleted.

The Takoma Theatre in the Takoma Park Historic District was designed by John Jacob Zinc who was the leading theater designer in the District, Maryland, Virginia, and Delaware. He designed more than 200 theaters from 1917 until his death in 1952. The Takoma was his first project completed independently.  He went on to design some of the most extraordinarily restrained, elegant, and functional theaters in Washington and Baltimore.

From Movie Palaces to Streamline Moderne

Originally from Baltimore, Zink studied at the Maryland Institute, then went to New York where he attended the Columbia School of Architecture and worked with the nationally acclaimed “movie palace” designer Thomas W. Lamb. In 1922, Zink opened an office in Washington on 10th Street NW, and began working independently. Personally Zink was well-liked, a perfectionist, and a rather straight laced Lutheran. This must have attracted the Takoma Park community that still foreswore alcohol and was dominated by the Seventh Day Adventists.

Distinct from the popular and exuberant “movie palaces” of the 1920s, Zink’s designs were very restrained in the Classical Revival, Colonial Revival, Art Deco, and Streamline Moderne styles.  Safety, comfort, sight lines, and acoustics were his primary concerns.  He included many amenities including comfortable lounge areas, smoking rooms, and even nurseries.

Innovative Theater Design

Zinc was one of the first theater architects to use the reverse curve design for theater auditoriums, placing the lowest point in the auditorium floor about one-third of the distance from the stage to the rear of the theater improving sight lines and

Zinc is best known for his Art Deco and Streamline or Art Moderne theaters designed from the 1930s to the  through the 1950s. In Washington, the Art Deco Uptown, the Art Moderne Flower, and the Art Moderne Atlas. In Baltimore, the magnificent Art Deco Senator. Most of the 200-plus theaters that Zink designed have been either remodeled beyond recognition or demolished. For some the façade remains.

The Takoma Theater is a superb example of his early Classical Revival style and as the only substantially intact interior is the only example the principles that also characterized his later work. This makes the Takoma Theater even more exceptional and important in the history of theater design.

Chronology of Area Theaters Designed by John Jacob Zink

In Washington DC

Zink built at least 15 theaters in the Washington DC area. A partial list:

Atlas Theatre. Built 1938, (theater and shops at 1313-31 H Street, NE.

This Art Moderne theater was built with adjacent stores like the Takoma. The Atlas suffered from many years of decline in the local commercial area and the razing of local buildings following the violent outbreaks after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1988. It closed in 1976.

The Atlas Performing Arts Center purchased and completely renovated the Theatre in 2002 as a community-based performing arts center. The exterior facade and marquee are the only intact features from the original Zink-designed theater.

MacArthur Theater. Built 1945. 4859 MacArthur Boulevard NW

Reflects the influence of modernism in both design and materials. One story. Irregular shape. Red brick with limestone frontispiece and streamlines. Curved aluminum marquee. Frameless glass doors allowing an open flow from sidewalk to lobby. The lobby features marble paneling, ramped terrazzo floor, aluminum trim, and cove lighting.

Senator Theatre. Built 1942. 3950 Minnesota Avenue, NE, Washington DC.

Senator Theatre in DC, 1989
Senator Theatre in DC, 1989

Art Moderne style entrance pavilion. Entry pylon of buff brick and glass block with stream line motif in colored vitrolite. Neon signage. Auditorium demolished. (Not to be confused with the Senator Theatre  in Baltimore.)

The Takoma Theatre. Designed 1923. Construction was completed and the theater opened in 1924.

Takoma Theatre Auditorium 2002-4. The Interior was essentially unchanged with the exception of proscenium. (Photo courtesy of TTAP)
Takoma Theatre Auditorium 2002-4. The Interior was essentially unchanged with the exception of proscenium. (Photo courtesy of TTAP)

The Takoma is the only remaining unaltered Zink-designed theater in DC and suburbs. It is architecturally distinct from the “movie palaces” such as the The Uptown and The Lincoln in DC, and the The Senator in Baltimore. For more information see Cinema Treasures.

The Uptown. Opened 29 Oct 1939. 3426 Connecticut Avenue, NW.

Art Deco. Originally 1,120 seats. In 1996 a $500,000 renovation reduced the seats to 850, with 300 in the balcony. The renovations also included new wallpaper, new flooring, carpet, drapes, and a second concession stand. Now owned by Loewes Cineplex.

The Uptown (1936) 3426 Connecticut Avenue NW. An Art Deco-style movie house, originally with 1,120 seats. A 1996 $500,000 renovation reduced the seats to 850, with 300 in the balcony. The renovations also included new wallpaper, new flooring, carpet, drapes, and a second concession stand. Now owned by Loews Cineplex.

In Silver Spring MD

The Flower, Opened 15 Feb 1950. also known as the Flower Avenue Playhouse. 8725 Flower Avenue. Takoma Park neighborhood.

Art Deco. Now used as a church. Originally seated 926 people. Built as part of an Arte Moderne shopping center. Facade of light brick, limestone, and marble.

In Baltimore City MD

The Ambassador Theater. 4606 Liberty Heights Avenue, Baltimore City MD.

Art Deco. Built by E. Eyring and Son.

The Senator Theatre, 5904 York Road at Belvedere Square, Govans neighborhood, Baltimore MD.

The Senator Theatre in Baltimore, 2008.
The Senator Theatre in Baltimore, 2008.

Designed in 1929. Opened 5 October 1939. Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1989.

One of Zink’s most notable theaters in the area. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1989.

An Art Deco landmark featuring an upper structure of glass blocks and limestone. The glass blocks were backlit in various colors for dramatic effect. The interior with art deco murals of the history of the performing arts has been restored. The lobby retains its original terrazzo floors. Built by E. Eyring for Durkee Enterprises at a cost of $250,000. In the early 1980s, Thomas Kiefauber, a member of the Durkee family, bought the theater and was responsible for its restoration and revival. The theater originally had 1150 seats but now has 900. There are two sky boxes connected by a mezzanine overlooking the lobby, used for private parties of up to 40 people.

The Senator still functions as a film theater with a modern 40 ft screen. In 2003, it was selected to become the first venue to complete the Historic Cinema Certification Program offered by THX Ltd., the San-Rafael, California based company founded by George Lucas. The special skyboxes are also equipped with user-controlled digital sound.

Wikipedia has an excellent article on the Senator with many additional details.

The Senator Theatre Website.

 

Theater Programs, Takoma, Washington DC