Atlas Performing Arts Center – Washington, D.C. - Atlas Obscura

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Atlas Performing Arts Center

The revival of a classic Art Deco theater. 

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The blue neon sign of the Atlas Theater first started shining on H Street Northeast in 1938. The Art Deco marquee—designed by John Jacob Zink—advertised the latest Hollywood hits, attracting moviegoers who arrived via streetcar from around the city. When it opened, it was one of only four cinemas in D.C. The business was a landmark on the bustling commercial corridor for 30 years until the violence that followed Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in 1968. The Atlas, along with many other area homes and businesses, was damaged in the riots. The theater went dark for decades.

Now, the neon is aglow again. In 2006, the theater was resurrected as the Atlas Performing Arts Center—a 59,000 square-foot home for area artists and arts, and a lynchpin in the revitalization of the H Street corridor. “It’s not just an arts center, it’s a revival,” one of the Atlas’s founding board members told the Washington Post at the time. (In 2017, the street cars returned too.)

The performing arts center has four different theater spaces and is home to the Capital City Symphony, Mosaic Theater Company of D.C., Visionaries of the Creative Arts (VOCA), Joy of Motion Dance Center, and Step Afrika! Any given week might bring a production from the VOCA Ensemble, a group of Deaf and Hard of Hearing BIPOC artists; a Bohemian Caverns big band concert; a performance from the all-Black, all-male, queer-inclusive Black Leaves Dance Company; and a silent movie screening and discussion. The annual Intersections Festival—typically held in February or March—is a particular draw. Even the lobby is a stage, with a calendar of free performances.

Know Before You Go

Don’t miss the Atlas District “Allery.” The alley next to the Atlas Performing Arts Center—known as Linden Court— is an open-air gallery of colorful murals inspired by life in D.C.

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