Classic Movie Theaters: The Refurbished and Forgotten

Matt Kiebus :: Friday, February 5th, 2010 3:45 pm

Movie theaters have been an escape for generations of people, a place to forget about outstanding electric bills and minimum wage paychecks. There is something magical about seeing films at movie theaters, the arresting combination of moving pictures and music merge to create portal into a different world. During the 1920s and 30s massive theaters were built across the country, designed in Art Deco style and finished with flair. These theaters were most prominent throughout golden age of film, when men wore jackets and ties and women dresses to the movies. Over time these grand cinemas have fallen into disrepair, forgotten by the masses in favor of practical and profitable multiplexes.

As culture and society changed, going to the movies became more about convenience. Today the average theater can seat between 200 and 300 people, significantly less than the elegant theaters of the past. There is no one to blame for the failure of these large theaters, not multiplexes with 20 screens, and certainly not the movie watching public. It’s just sad to see these majestic havens fall by the wayside.

Which is why it is refreshing to see some old classic theaters being converted and refurbished for future use. The New York Times reported Wednesday that Loews King’s Theater would undergo $70 million dollars in renovations and reopen in 2014. The Brooklyn movie theater hasn’t opened it’s doors since 1977. Located on Flatbush Ave the massive theater used to seat 3,200 people. The City of New York, with the help of ACE Theatrical Group is planning on restoring the theater to its former glory and converting it into a venue for live concerts as well as theatrical and community events.

Not all these theaters are receiving the financial help they need. One of these forgotten gems is The Senator Theater in Baltimore, Maryland. Baltimore is not normally associated with the glamour of a Hollywood premiere, but the Senator Theater hosted plenty of them. Located on York Road in North Baltimore the neighborhood is certainly not the nicest part of town, and quite a distance from the areas where the city has focused for redevelopment. Tourists don’t drive past it, and the city doesn’t market it very well either. The historic landmark is scarcely mentioned on the city’s tourism website. However it was widely regarded as one of the top ten movie theaters in the United States by Entertainment Weekly in 2005. The 70-year-old treasure from the art deco era was built in 1939 and hosted numerous premieres of films directed by Barry Levinson and John Waters.

The Senator has gotten lost in the forgotten Govans neighborhood of Baltimore. I attended Loyola College down the street from The Senator and all of our popular school bars were within a hundred yards of the theater’s marquee. The only people that frequented the neighborhood at night were belligerent college kids at local dive bars, the homeless, drug addicts, gangs, and police. Sounds like a twisted social experiment right? Needless to say this doesn’t make for the most inviting movie experience. The walk from my townhouse senior year to the closest bar was about ten minutes, however everyone took cabs, not out of laziness, out of safety.

Hopefully The Senator, which stopped showing first run movies in March of 2009, will one day be blessed with the recent good fortune of the Loews Kings Theater in Brooklyn. Nevertheless I’m just not getting my hopes up. The City of Baltimore to investing millions in a movie theater when there are more pressing issues would be irresponsible. It’s just unfortunate and disheartening to watch this movie sanctuary fade away in an overlooked neighborhood trapped a city that our country forgot about a long time ago.