Friday, April 24, 2009

Old Movie Houses:Just One Life to Live

Ever been to the Movies? Well of course you have, who hasn't? Now have you been to the movies in Baltimore? Well of course you.........probably haven't at least any time recently. This post will discuss everything movie theater related whether it be films or theater they show and how both can be strengthened and how they got to be where they are today.
Perhaps the biggest problem with older American Cities that are trying to regain population lost in the latter part of the 20th century is trying to appeal to suburbanites while at the same time not turning in to a suburb itself. One fundamental difference (of many) between cities and suburbs is how one goes to the movies. The suburban trend has been and will continue to be bigger. Bigger Theatres which play multiple movies at the same time. These are called "multiplexes" the number of theatres in a multiplex can range from two to twenty two. Baltimore, did not catch on to this trend in revitalization attempts. Baltimore in its hey day had lots of "Movie Houses" all through out its neighborhood's Main Streets which as their name suggests only has one theater that played one movie at a time.
Baltimore may be lacking in the Cinema sector of Theatre but it has a vibrant and healthy live theatre community with venues throughout the City.
They include the Hippodrome, The Merrick Opera House, and the Everyman Theatre in
Downtown's Westside.(coming soon, currently in Station North
Mount Vernon also plays host to several Theatres including Center Stage, The Lyric Opera House, Run of the Mill Theatre, and The Spot Light Theatre. Fels Point and Greektown house the Corner Theatre and Toby's Dinner Theatre respectively. In both the Charles North and State Center Master Plans there are plans for a live theatre.
Now back to Cinemas. Baltimore is in danger (again) of losing its last Movie House; The Senator. The Senator, although its attendance is lacking has a lot of support from Baltimore Movie Buffs. Whenever the Senator is in trouble residents and businesses alike pull together to put the Senator back on track. There is talk of the City stepping in to save the Senator from its current financial woes. One thing that puzzles me is if the Senator has such a large fan base why is business so slow? My theory is that only showing one film at a time, the audience is limited to people who only want to see that particular film and fans of the Senator have to wait until it shows a film that they like. That right there is the explanation for the demise of the Movie House and the rise of the Multiplex; something for everyone. There is another former Movie House that decided to expand in 1999 from one screen to five.
That theatre is the Charles and its expansion marked the birth of "Station North" an arts and entertainment district that has become a trendy hot spot.
Now the Senator is a relic, a dinosaur if you will. Baltimore was once full of Movie Houses from Lauraville to Violetville. They include the Hamilton, The Walbrook, The Pimlico, The Patterson, The Royal (Upton), The Parkway Theater (Station North), The Paradise(Fels Point), The Federal (Federal Hill), Eureka (Hollins Market), Ideal (Hamden) The Broadway, The Bridge, (Edmondson Avenue), The Waverly, McHenry (South Baltimore), The Gilmor (Sandtown Winchester), Roosevelt (Mount Vernon) Forest Park, Pennington (Curtis Bay), Echo (Locust Point), The Fredrick (Irvington), Lafayette (Harlem Park, The Hampden, The Edmondson, The Flag (Riverside), Dunbar (Washington Hill), The Harford (Lauraville), The Fairmount (Canton), and the New Gem (Buthchers Hill) The were dozens more located throughout Downtown, Pennsylvania Avenue, and North Avenue, too many to name them all.
There are two underlying themes in this post. The first is that Old Movie Houses are only fit to be just that, Movie Houses. Their Architecture won't support any other uses. Plenty of old Movie Houses in Baltimore have been converted into storefront churches among other uses mostly among the retail sector. They look hideous, as much history as these old Movie Houses have they should be torn down or renovated drastically to fit the needs of their current function if any. With the Royal, the Theatre was torn down and Marquis was saved. In Forest Park one was torn down in favor of a Walgreens Pharmacy.
In Highlandtown one was torn down in favor of the Southeastern Branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library. I'm not against saving Old Movie Houses in fact it would be nice if some were converted back to Movie Houses like the Walbrook which is still standing but is currently a Store Front Church. However, we've got to face facts that this nostalgic era of Baltimore's past is just that; the past. Old Movie Houses only have one life to live.
Edmondson Village took a stab at the Multiplex idea in the 1950s but they ultimately closed.
The second underlying theme of this post is that despite the demise of Old Movie Houses in Baltimore we still have to look forward and be innovative to fill the retail gap left by Old Movie Houses. This means that Baltimore has to build more Multiplexes throughout the City. Now Multiplexes are a product of Suburbia with their acres of surface parking and the "Big Box" design of the buildings themselves. This is where the innovative thinking comes into play. After all, we do not want Baltimore to become a suburb of itself in fact the higher the density, the better. Can Baltimore have its cake and eat it too?
It already took its first bite with the opening of the Landmark Theaters in Harbor East. It shares a building with a Hilton Garden Inn and Homewood Suites with either Offices or Apartments Above. Now this the way to do it. I'm proposing several other locations throughout the City to build multiplex Theaters with varying density. Some will be in lower density suburban style shopping centers while others will be part of the high density urban grid. My suggested locations include;Southside Shopping Center,
Mondawmin Mall, Mount Clare Junction,
Reisterstown Road Plaza, Edmondson Village (again), Belair Road, Orangeville (After the Redline is built),the Westside of Downtown (where the Mayfair is it will use the old Marquis),
and Eastern Avenue. Notice these locations are not near the Charles or the Senator.

Well Old Movie Houses may only have one life to live but their legacy will live on in the form of Multiplexes.


Greg said...

"Old Movie Houses are only fit to be just that, Movie Houses. Their Architecture won't support any other use."

This isn't completely true. The Pikes Theatre in Pikesville serves as a fairly popular diner. Granted this occurred after several other failed attempts.

Unknown said...

Southside Marketplace WAS home to a theatre, Southside Movies 4, in 1992-93. It was a disaster, and perhaps the shortest-lived house in Baltimore history. The Pet Valu store in your picture occupies the former theatre space.

Spence Lean said...

Thanks for the info Randy, I'm planning a post on the evolution of South Baltimore ans how Southside Market Place hasn't kept up with it. This will be most helpful in the crafting of that Post.

Larry Gray said...

where is the hollins market movie house?

Spence Lean said...

The Eureka in Hollins Market closed decades ago.

Bob H said...

What do you mean by Edmondson Village taking a stab at the multiplex idea? There was only a single Edmondson Village Theater. I think there are a lot of possible uses for old movie theaters, some that come to mind are performing arts centers, churches, restaurants. The Eureka wasn't in Hollins Market. It was on the west side of Fremont Ave a block or so north of the Washington Blvd. I don't think there was ever a Hamilton Theater. The movie theaters in Hamilton were the Arcade Theater and the Community which later became the Avon.

Bob H

Unknown said...

So what is your take on the recent venting by many of the youth? Is there a geographic area link to any particularly impoverished working class area which is always sustained as a back-up for the "unskilled" menial tasks required in this society; or perhaps just the stress induced by the magnified class contradictions (or even maybe race contradictions)that may accompany gentrification;or neither, or both..?