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Harry Crandall (1879–1937) began building his Washington movie theater empire when he opened the Casino at Fourth and East Capitol streets in 1907. Crandall's ownership of the Casino was short lived, however, as he accepted an offer to purchase it a short time after his operation began. In 1910, Crandall again entered the movie business by opening La Grand Open Air Park, which he described as fairly successful until its third year, which was unusually rainy. Afterward, in 1913, Crandall decided to open the Joy Theater at 437-439 9th Street, which was his springboard to the top of the Washington movie ladder. Crandall identified this period as when he started to take the motion picture business seriously. While operating the Joy, he began to dream of a larger theater downtown and a large theater in each section of the city. To fulfill his vision, he initially purchased and refurbished existing neighborhood movie houses which were generally modest in size. However, with the Knickerbocker (1917), the Metropolitan (1918), the York (1919), and the Lincoln (1922), Crandall commissioned entirely new buildings designed by Reginald W. Geare. The Metropolitan was located in Washington’s central business core on F Street, a short distance from the Joy. The Knickerbocker, York, and Lincoln, on the other hand, were built outside the business district. Of these four theaters, only the York and Lincoln remain.
At the height of his career, Crandall owned eighteen theaters in Washington D.C., Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia. His theaters were well regarded in their communities, and many of them featured elegant and opulent designs which were formerly reserved for opera houses. His chain included first-rate movie houses like the Apollo, the Metropolitan, the Tivoli Theater (Washington D.C.), and the ill-fated Knickerbocker. The roof of the Knickerbocker theater collapsed in a snow storm, killing 98 patrons and injuring more than 100, which is said to be the reason for the later suicides of both Crandall (1937) and the architect Reginald Geare (1927).
Harry Crandall used his position and his theaters to educate the population and to provide space for their cultural and civic activities. He created a Public Service and Educational Department and placed it under the direction of Harriet Hawley Locher, a prominent Washington club woman and past chairperson of the Motion Picture Committee of the District of Columbia Federated Women’s Clubs. This was one of the first and most ambitious programs of its kind in the country. Crandall and Locher believed that the neighborhood theater could function as a community center and that it could provide space for educational, cultural and religious activities when not showing movies. In another move to gain the good will of neighborhood children, Crandall provided equipment for boys’ baseball teams. There were four teams: the Savoy, the York, the Apollo, and the Avenue Grand.
In 1925, Harry Crandall sold 75 percent of his theater interests to the Stanley Company of Philadelphia, forming the new Stanley-Crandall Company. Crandall retained 25 percent ownership and became the executive of the company, then among the four largest theatrical organizations in the country. In 1927, Warner Brothers purchased the Stanley-Crandall Company. Harry Crandall retired from active theater operation in 1929.