Knickerbocker Theatre Roof Collapse
Accumulated snowfall from a blizzard collapses the Knickerbocker Theatre in Washington, D.C., on this day in 1922.
The blizzard formed in the Carolinas on January 26 and moved into the Washington area the following day. For two days, snow blanketed the nation’s capital, resulting in accumulations of more than two feet. The large amount of snow crippled transportation in Washington and shut down the government.
By Saturday night, things were beginning to return to normal, and some 300 people attended a movie at Knickerbocker Theatre, at the corner of 18th Street and Columbia Road. In the middle of the film, the accumulated snow on the theater’s roof collapsed the building and tons of steel and concrete fell down on top of the theatergoers. One hundred and eight people were killed, including five in a single family. Another 133 were hospitalized. Rescuers worked through the night to pull out the injured from beneath the rubble.
The Knickerbocker Theatre was the largest and newest movie house in Washington, D.C., built in 1917 and owned by Harry Crandall. The roof was flat, which allowed the snow which had recently fallen to remain on the roof. During the movie's (Get-Rich-Quick Wallingford) intermission, the weight of the heavy, wet snow became too much for the roof to bear. The roof split down the middle, bringing down the balcony seating as well as a portion of the brick wall. Dozens were buried. The media reported it as similar to a scene from World War I. People with lanterns frantically attempted to rescue victims of the disaster. By midnight, 200 rescue workers had organized the scene. The numbers of those involved in the rescue increased to over 600 by 2:30 a.m. Nearby residents helped feed the rescuers, also supplying them with hot drinks. This disaster ranks as one of the worst in Washington. D.C. history.
Washington’s largest snowstorm on record began during the evening of January 27, 1922. By the morning of January 28, the snow total had reached 18 inches. By mid-afternoon, the accumulation reached a depth of 25 inches. The snow did not stop until the morning of January 29, with an official snow depth of 28 inches, a single storm snowfall record for Washington, D.C. that still stands today. A snow depth of 33 inches was measured in Rock Creek Park, three miles to the north of Washington’s official weather station. Temperatures were in the low-to-mid-20’s during most of the storm. The liquid total of the snowfall was 3.02 inches.
The weight of the record-breaking snow collapsed the roof of the Knickerbocker Theatre. The roof of the theater fell on scores of moviegoers, killing 98 and injuring 133. The disaster ranks as one of the worst in Washington’s history.