City Cast

DC's Unmarked Tragedy: The Knickerbocker Theater Collapse

Kaela Cote-Stemmermann
Kaela Cote-Stemmermann
Posted on August 15
Interior of the theater after the collapse.

Interior of the theater after the collapse. (Library of Congress/Public Domain)

In 1922, a snow storm caused the roof of the Knickerbocker Theater to collapse, triggering one of the deadliest accidents in D.C.’s history. The accident killed 98 people and injured another 133.

The Knickerbocker – located at 18th Street NW and Columbia Road NW in Adams Morgan – was the most luxurious theater in the city at the time. It could seat 1,700 people.

At the end of January, a blizzard dumped 28 inches of snowfall on the city. But still, hundreds of Washingtonians trudged their way to the theater to see the silent movie “Get-Rich-Quick Wallingford.”

But just as the credits started to roll, the ceiling split and caved in under the weight of snow, forcing the mezzanine to collapse onto the orchestra. According to witnesses, it all happened within seconds, giving no time to escape.

The Knickerbocker Theatre from the outside after the collapse of the roof.

The Knickerbocker Theatre from the outside after the collapse of the roof. (Library of Congress/Public Domain)

Adams Morgan neighbors tried to save people from the rubble, and by morning, there were 600 police officers, soldiers, and firefighters were on the scene. Residents provided food and coffee for rescuers and blankets for the injured. Nearby homes and stores became first aid centers. Despite these efforts, it became the deadliest accident in D.C. history.

The site later became the Ambassador Theater, then a bank, and is now a small plaza. There is no plaque or memorial to the victims; you would never guess it was the site of a D.C. tragedy.

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