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Location History

 
Until 1968 "The Corner" was home to the Ambassador Theater. There, in August of 1967, Jimi Hendrix played a three-night gig and a rally was held for the March on the Pentagon. Before that, it was the Knickerbocker Theater where, in January of 1922 on a snowy winter Saturday, hundreds of folks were watching a silent movie when the roof collapsed, killing 98 people.

Rock & Roll in Adams Morgan

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[Photo] The main entrance of the Ambassador Theatre on 18th St. in 1951. The marquee is about where the entrance to the bank’s basement parking garage is now. (Photo from cinematreasures.org.)

A scant year later, The Ambassador Theater opened there, rebuilt from the shell of the Knickerbocker. They started out showing silent films, then in 1927 the first “talkie,” with Al Jolson in The Jazz Singer. (Jolson’s parents lived around the corner on Lanier Place at the time.) The neighborhood went into decline in the ’60s, people weren’t going to the movies anymore, and by the middle of the decade the seats had all been removed and the owners would rent the theater out to whoever was interested.

In the summer of ‘67 (the "Summer of Love"), three DC guys had just gotten back from a trip to California and thought it would be cool to get some music happenin' in DC, so they rented the Ambassador and booked the Grateful Dead. Alas, the neighborhood was not into it, they were not issued a permit and the show was cancelled, even as the Dead’s equipment was already inside waiting. The Doors were subsequently booked, and again they were shut down. About ready to drop the whole idea, the guys got a call asking if they would be interested in booking Jimi Hendrix (who would subsequently be named "Top Pop Musician" of the year). Somehow -- third try is the charm -- the guys got the neighbors placated and got their permit. Jimi — 24 years old and fresh off a big show at the Monterey Pop Festival in June — would be quite a start at the ‘re-purposed’ Ambassador Theatre.

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[Photo] from allthingsjimi, also on Jimi Hendrix Lifelines.

From August 9-13, 1967, The Jimi Hendrix Experience rocked the Ambassador. The 13th was a Sunday, the final gig, and the show was scheduled for 8:30 PM. On the same day, down at Constitution Hall on the Mall, The Who opened for Herman’s Hermits. A number of concert-goers who were at Constitution Hall made a dash from the Mall up to Adams Morgan after The Who finished their set. They weren’t the only ones to do so. Pete Townshend and John Entwistle of The Who also jumped in a cab and headed for the Ambassador Theatre to catch Jimi’s show. When Jimi took the stage he glanced down at the front row and saw Pete sitting there; John was leaning against the wall nearby. Jimi immediately launched into a quick Who number, catching his bandmates off guard. Near the end of the show — during the encore — Jimi poured lighter fluid over his guitar and lit it. 

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[Photo] The band backstage at the Ambassador in 1967. (Photo from Shep Tullier/SHEP TULLIER)

Jimi’s shows were followed that summer and fall by Vanilla Fudge, Canned Heat, Strawberry Alarm Clock, Moby Grape, the Hollies, John Lee Hooker and more, but it didn’t last. By the first week of 1968 the owners of the theater closed its doors and had it demolished a year later. The gravel lot sat empty for several years, then in 1973 became the site of the very unofficial Adams Morgan farmers market. The lot was eventually paved and turned into a parking lot, managed by the Cuban restaurant around the corner. (The parking lot attendant would go on to open L'Auriol Plaza restaurant down 18th St. some years later.) The farmers market was very nearly eliminated when a bank was built on the site in 1978 and wanted to close it. The market survived when the neighborhood’s residents threatened to withdraw all their money if the bank didn’t allow the farmers to continue using the plaza out near the corner. It was my neighbor and friend Jim Crawford of New Morning Farm who started the market in 1973 and eventually, in 2001, let us take over their slot there.

For 16 years we sold vegetables a few feet from the stage where Jimi lit his guitar on fire while Pete Townshend sat in the front row! Didn't have any idea about that when we started at the market in 2001!

 

 

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