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.

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.

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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