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Remembering The Golden Age Of Silver Spring's Flower Theatre

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A view of the Flower Theater and Shopping Center in 1962.
Courtesy of American University Archives
A view of the Flower Theater and Shopping Center in 1962.
Sue and Phil Gosier met and fell in love while working at the Flower Theater in 1989. Rebecca Sheir/WAMU)

Phil and Sue Gosier grew up within blocks of the Flower Theater: a brick and limestone Art Deco building on Flower Avenue near Piney Branch Road.

Back in 1989 — 39 years after the theater opened — it was where Phil and Sue met and fell in love. At that point, the Flower was a second-run movie-house, its original one big screen now supplanted by four smaller ones. Sue was a high-school junior, and Phil was a recently-graduated senior.

“I was working right there in the box office selling tickets,” Phil says as he stands outside the now-shuttered box office. “The first time I saw my wife, I remember distinctly, I looked up and she was very beautiful, and struck me, and I kind of leaned on the manager to push her application to the front, and so she got hired.”

Soon after that, Phil and Sue got together, and since Sue’s parents actually forbade her from dating in high school, all of their dates happened, secretly, at the theater, when her parents thought she was on the clock.

“We dated at the theater!” Phil says with a smile. “They let us in for free!”

And now, 25 years later, though they've moved out to Olney, Md., Phil and Sue are married with children — your basic happily-ever-after story.

Flower Theater had its day

As for the Flower, its ending wasn't quite as happy. It stopped showing movies in 1996; now it’s being used by a Spanish-language church.

But, says Clare Kelly, who works in Historic Preservation with the Montgomery County Planning Department, even if the Flower Theater didn't get a true “happily ever after,” back in February 1950 it certainly got quite the marvelous “once upon a time.”

“It was a huge deal, opening day,” she says. “The Takoma Park high school band played. It was broadcast on WGAY. They had a Bob Hope film, The Great Lover.”

The Flower Theater and Shopping Center got a full-page spread in the Evening Star on February 14, 1950. (Courtesy Historic Preservation Office, Montgomery County Planning Dept.)

Kelly says at the time, the Flower was especially state-of-the-art, with plenty of amenities: “It had air conditioning, which was new in early 1950. They had a nursery which was affectionately known as ‘the crying room.’ It’s where parents could take their fussy children and still see the movie!”

Goodness knows there were plenty of parents with children, fussy or not. Population in the greater Silver Spring area had been booming since the 1930s. And Fred S. Kogod — co-owner of K-B Entertainment Company and primary developer of what would become the Flower Shopping Center — took notice.

“New Deal workers came here to the area. And there was a lot of residential development in the thirties,” Kelly explains. “And so he saw a need for retail but also for entertainment for folks who were moving here.”

That’s why he developed the Flower Theater as a Park and Shop: a type of shopping-parking complex indigenous to the Washington, D.C., area. The prototype was the Connecticut Avenue Park and Shop in Cleveland Park, with its L-shaped arrangement of stores around a parking forecourt.

“It was a really a full-service community center that had both staples and also specialty shops,” Kelly says.

And in the case of the Flower Shopping Center, that meant everything from a bakery to a barber to a children’s clothing store, as well as larger anchors: Giant grocery, Whelan’s drug store, Woolworth’s, and, of course, the Flower Theater – which, actually, led a bit of a double life.

“When it first opened there weren't any other community buildings around,” Kelly says. “So there was a community co-op that had classes here. There was this large Jewish population; there was no synagogue in 1950, and so they had religious services here.”

Good times didn't last forever

But, as we know, the Flower Theater eventually fell on harder times. It actually closed for a spell in the late 1970s, before re-opening in the 80s, which, of course, is a good thing for sweethearts Phil and Sue Gosier.

“We haven’t been over here in a while; we get really nostalgic coming to this neighborhood,” Phil says.

After being closed for several years, the Flower Theater is now home to a Spanish-language church. (Courtesy Eric Shimelonis)

“Yes,” Sue agrees. “This theater was very quaint. You know, everyone knows everybody and it was fun. We thought it was the coolest theater ever.”

In fact, Phil goes so far as to say “it was kind of the cornerstone, or one of the central spots for this block here.”

Nowadays, a smattering of shops do remain in the Park and Shop, including a dollar store and a much-renovated Giant. But the theater hasn't really been a “central spot” for the community in quite a while.

Still, Flower fans can take heart: the Montgomery County Council has designated the theater a historic site, so its façade and front lobby area will be preserved. Additionally, the council has stated that “new buildings along Flower Avenue should not rise above the theater’s height."

So even if the Flower Theater’s silver screens went dark long ago, the theater itself — and all its accompanying memories — can keep shining on.

Music: "Thanks for the Memories (Bob Hope Show Theme)" by The TV Theme Players from TV Themes of the 50s & 60s

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