(Left) Royal, 1329 Pennsylvania Ave., 1971 — The shuttered Royal, a mecca for African American entertainment from 1922 to 1970, was torn down in 1971. It was an important destination on the Chitlin’ Circuit that also included the Howard in Washington. (Courtesy of the Theatre Historical Society of America)(Right) Royal, 1329 Pennsylvania Ave., 2013 — From left, Tyler Saunders, Traveis Howell and Jawuan Maultsby pose before football practice on the field that replaced the Royal and other businesses. Behind them is a memorial to the beloved African American theater. (Amy Davis)
Baltimore has only a handful of movie theaters, five to be exact. Yet a century ago, as nickelodeons proliferated in response to the demand for moving pictures, 129 theaters existed within the city limits. That number dwindled and expanded in the following decades, and by 1950, the city reached its second peak of 119 theaters. With the advent of television, the flight of the middle class to the suburbs and changes in technology that bypassed theaters, an inexorable decline ensued.
Surprisingly, most of the old movie houses are still standing, ghosts on the battered streets of Baltimore. Of the 72 theaters celebrated in “Flickering Treasures: Rediscovering Baltimore’s Forgotten Movie Theaters” (Johns Hopkins University Press), only 11 have vanished completely. However, these portals of fantasy could not escape the ravages that befell their neglected neighborhoods. Sandwiched between bail bondsmen, liquor stores and discount shops, former theaters exist as churches, retail businesses, restaurants, private clubs, warehouses, offices, laundromats and even a funeral home.
(Left) Parkway, 5 West North Ave., 1926 — When the 1915 Parkway, an 1,100-seat theater, was taken over by Loews in 1926, it began showing MGM films. (Courtesy of the Theatre Historical Society of America)(Right) Parkway, 5 West North Ave., 2012 — The Stavros Niarchos Parkway, home to the Maryland Film Festival, retains much of its Baroque glory despite almost four decades of abandonment. Its restoration is termed a “rescued ruin” because some of the deterioration has been preserved. (Amy Davis) (Left) New, 210 West Lexington St., 1931 — The grandeur of this 1,400-seat theater in the downtown shopping district can still be glimpsed through this deteriorated photograph. (Courtesy of the Baltimore Museum of Industry, BGECollection)(Right) New, 210 West Lexington St., 2010 — The wrecking ball brings down the century-old New theater. One of Baltimore’s early theater palaces, the New lasted from 1910 to 1986. (Amy Davis) (Left) Capitol, 1518 West Baltimore St., 1932 — The Capitol, a 1,200-seat theater built in 1921, lasted until 1970 on the west side of Baltimore. (Courtesy of the Robert K. Headley Theatre Collection)(Right) Capitol, 1518 West Baltimore St., 2013 — Shawn “Silk” Coombs takes a break under the dilapidated projection booth of the Capitol. The auditorium is now used as a warehouse. (Amy Davis)
Vintage photographs help us understand the dramatic metamorphosis that every theater — and the city itself — has undergone. In my photographs, theaters become the backdrops, sidewalks are the stage, and passersby become the actors. A specialty lens called Lensbaby was used for some of my photographs to selectively focus on key details, framed by a veil of soft focus. These images invite an idealized memory of the building’s history, inviting the viewer to imagine the past within the present. The Parkway, a 1915 gem boarded up for almost 40 years, returned this year as the home of the Maryland Film Festival in Station North. Perhaps more miracles — for the desolate Ritz, the dismembered Mayfair, the lost Royal and other beloved movie haunts — are waiting in the wings.
(Left) Auditorium/Mayfair, 508 North Howard St., 1904 — This 2,000-seat downtown theater palace was known as the Auditorium until 1940, when ownership changed and it became the Mayfair. (Courtesy of the Jacques Kelly Collection)(Right) Mayfair, 508 North Howard St., 2014 — Eugene Bell walks his friend’s dog past the Mayfair, shuttered since 1986. All that remains of the building is the facade, sans marquee, and a small portion of the side walls supporting the front. The city hopes for new development of the block. (Amy Davis) (Left) Linden, 910 West North Ave., c. 1955 — The Linden, in operation from 1938 to 1965, changed its name to the Cinema when it was remodeled into an art house in 1953. The struggling theater, which seated almost 900 when it opened, was renamed two more times before closing in 1965. (Courtesy of the Theatre Historical Society of America)(Right) Linden, 910 West North Ave., 2013 — The Linden in Reservoir Hill is no longer recognizable as a movie theater. The Art Moderne entrance, now covered over, was behind the pedestrian. (Amy Davis) (Left) Harford, 2616 Harford Rd., 1928 — A crowd gathers outside the Harford Theater in 1928 in support of a challenge to the prohibition of movie exhibition on Sunday. The blue laws were repealed in 1932. (Courtesy of the Jacques Kelly Collection)(Right) Harford, 2616 Harford Rd., 2012 — Bishop Clarence Weston, front, with some of his congregants, turned the Harford into the home of the Redeemed Church of Christ Apostolic in 1971. (Amy Davis)
Amy Davis, a photojournalist at the Baltimore Sun, will present a slide show of her new book, “Flickering Treasures: Rediscovering Baltimore’s Forgotten Movie Theaters,” at the National Building Museum on Dec. 6 at 6:30 p.m. A book signing will follow the lecture.
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