Baltimore’s Senator Theatre – One Year Later

It has been more than a full year since Mr. Cusack and his daughter became the operating tenants to the city owned, internationally recognized Senator Theatre. Many Baltimoreans had high expectations that the operators of The Charles Theatre would rejuvenate and revitalize The Senator given the plans presented. However, lately I’ve been hearing from residents and patrons that the state of the theatre in the meantime has deteriorated.

Having not been in the Belvedere Square area recently I made it a point to drive past The Senator this Thursday night. I was literally stunned by just how badly the theatre looked from the street. In my 27 years as a patron of The Senator .

While I cannot call myself a close friend of longtime Senator Theatre exhibition expert and film preservationist legend William (“Bill”) Hewitt, I’ve enjoyed countless films he presented over the years. I was even more fortunate have briefly worked with him (as did my family and several others during 18th month all-volunteer period). Given this and what I’ve learned of the man from others, it’s obvious he was the consummate film exhibition professional, and, a tremendous contributor to The Senator’s fame. I am therefore comfortable stating that he would NEVER have accepted the “black-eyed” appearance The Senator Theatre now conveys in the Belvedere Square community.

Moreover, my heart and jaw dropped as I realized that this man’s “memorial”, placed on the iconic marquee, occupied the dark center section.

A recent article by Adam Bednar writes:

[Mr. Cusack] also said there’s no current maintenance being done on the building because they are waiting for state funds and city approval to begin a rehab of the structure.

If this has been the approach by the tenants toward maintenance, as it seems, what should we expect if they are not awarded government funding they expect to receive?

The citizen-owners of this Baltimore landmark, historic building advocates, film historians and preservationists alike should not only take note of the situation, but make their opinions and voices heard – via online petition, yes, but also at Baltimore City Hall. For what does it say of us if we allow this last remaining, operational, historic Baltimore movie house to be neglected – In a state in which The Senator Theatre and The League of Historic American Theatres calls home?

-Tom Harris

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Another Senator Theatre Era Ends

We are saddened to pass along that celebrated, long time Senator Theatre projectionist William “Bill” Hewitt passed away early yesterday morning:

  • The Senator Theatre on Facebook:
    “We wish to take a moment to remember a very dear friend. Projectionist and Manager of The Senator Theatre for many years. William Hewitt (1936 – 2011).”
  • Former theatre owner Tom Kiefaber on Facebook:
    “The motion-picture exhibition industry lost a great one today. William H “Bill” Hewitt, [75]Bill a film collector who saved irreplaceable footage from extinction over a lifetime, projectionist extraordinaire, encyclopedic expert on film and radio history, dog lover and a compatriot coworker for over 35 years, passed today at 2am, yet his extended, multi-faceted list credits are still rolling. For over 30 years, The Senator Theatre’s renowned national reputation for obsessive technical excellence and consistency was the sole achievement of William H. Hewitt. He was The Master.”

Many have enjoyed the skill, dedication and professionalism Mr. Hewitt brought to the exhibition of film at The Senator over the years.
R.I.P. Mr. Hewitt.

AMC Theaters at Towson Commons Closing

Towson Commons photo by Lizzy BrooksAccording to a Towson Patch article the original anchor tenant’s last day will be Friday, May 15 to make way for renovations.

[A new theater] is planned for the long-stalled Towson Circle III project, but until then movie lovers will have to trek to the Regal cinema in Hunt Valley, the AMC cinema in Owings Mills or The Senator Theatre in Govans to get their fill.

And, some more changes apparently are coming to the Belvedere Square retail area:

The SENATOR Theatre: Ring In The Holidays! Food Drive & Free Movie Returns

As reported by Baltimore Messenger’s, Larry Perl and now confirmed on the new SENATOR Theatre site,
a 19 year holiday tradition will continue this year at the theatre.

We are happy to report the 20th

The GEDCO CARES Food Pantry
holiday food drive
and
free screenings of
Frank Capra’s Heart-Warming 1946 Masterpiece

“It’s a Wonderful Life”

(1946 – 130min)

Starring: James Stewart, Donna Reed,
Lionel Barrymore, Thomas Mitchell,
Henry Travers & Beulah Bondi

Saturday, December 18th
Sunday, December 19th
&

Christmas Eve, December 24th
10:00 am

An angel helps a compassionate but despairing,
frustrated businessman by showing what life would
have been like if he never existed.

 

SENATOR Theatre to reopen Oct 15 with 1st run films, starting with action/comedy “RED”

At a public meeting last night, Buzz and Kathleen Cusack announced that the theatre will indeed reopen to the public next Friday (October 15, 2010) as a first run movie house. The first film to screen will be “Red“, starring Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Mary Louise-Parker, Helen Mirren and others.

Showtimes were not announced, but can be expected to be listed on the new Senator website (http://thesenatortheatre.com) when it launches, as early as 5pm today. Ticket prices announced were $7.50 for matinees (shows starting before 6pm) and $9 for shows beginning after 6pm.

Senator Theatre outer lobby original paneling

Outer lobby paneling

In regard to renovations, the 100 or so attendees got a first-hand look (and touch) of the recently uncovered original wood paneling in the outer lobby and the likewise inner lobby ceiling mural. Sadly, the latter is covered with so many globs of adhesive (used to anchor the suspensions for the acoustic tiles that were recently removed) that it is intimated to be beyond repair.

The Cusacks, who operate The Charles Theater, also displayed plans for expected additions of a full service restaurant (on the north side, replacing  what was an addition that housed a dry-cleaners), crepe shop and a second auditorium to be attached to the south side of the theatre, along Rosebank Avenue. Current designs for the restaurant, it was noted, would find it’s facade extending approximately 8 feet toward York Road. This would mean that the sidewalk blocks commemorating Casino Royale and the premiere of Ladder 49 would be lost. However, steps are being taken to see if they can be recreated in another location. Also noted were changes to the mens & ladies lounges and restrooms to make them ADA compliant.

It was stressed that the visuals were concepts and that plans are still in the design & development phase and pending approval from the City’s CHAP as well as state and federal officials (to qualify for historic tax credits). Construction, once begun, is expected to take 9 months to 1 year to complete. However, the Cusacks state they expect to keep The Senator open during much of that time, only to close when necessary – for instance – when replacing the main auditorium seats with new, larger models.

For those who could not attend, it was said that the slideshow would be available on the new Senator website.

Meeting media coverage:

Cusacks to Announce Oct 15 Reopening for SENATOR Theatre

According to Michael Sragow, “Buzz” and daughter Kathleen Cusack will announce that Friday, October 15th as the day The Senator Theatre will reopen as a first run movie house.

The announcement is to come as part of a public “Progress Meeting”, as stated in the theatre’s marquee, slated to begin at 6:30pm. It’s also expected they will name the feature that returning Senator projectionist Bill Hewitt will exhibit to hail the reopening.

“We welcome anyone with any interest in the theater to join in our excitement as we prepare to reopen.”
-Kathleen Cusack

You can read Mr. Sragow’s full post here.

SENATOR Theatre may reopen as early as October

Excerpts from Coming Soon: New owner begins renovating historic Senator Theatre by Larry Perl, Baltimore Messenger:

Two weeks after the city approved renovation plans and a lease agreement, Cusack walked around the Senator with Hampden-based engineering consultant Michael Walkley on Aug. 27…

In addition to building a second theater and restaurants, Cusack plans to renovate the current auditorium with all new seats. He expects overall renovations, including the second theater and restaurants, to take nine months, but he plans to reopen the theater as soon as October, even while construction is going on, at the request of the city.

He said he is already looking for a first-run movie to book.

“Everybody seems to want to open it now,” Cusack said. “We’ll have to close it when we (redo) the auditorium.”

SENATOR Theatre RFP: CHAP Hearing Results

UPDATED (Aug. 13, 2010): Scans of CHAP Staff Report used at the meeting – see bottom of this post.

Yesterday’s CHAP hearing on The Senator Theatre was quite positive!

I want to thank everyone who attended!

It was encouraging to see so many show and endure the wait (the hearing was scheduled for 3pm, but I don’t think we actually got started until nearly 4?), especially the young man who addressed the committee stating (paraphrased):

“I think I may be the only one here not affiliated with some group.”
“I don’t know of anywhere else this [programming plan] has been successfully with an historic single screen theatre, so I hope the City will bring in experts from places where they successfully done something like this.”
“I want to bring my kids to see movies at The Senator, but I need it to be here for a while for that to happen.”

Our overriding concern for expert top-to-bottom evaluation of the building was taken into account and added to the conditions for moving forward with detailed renderings and further study of proposed changes. This was a huge relief! Our suggestion that Tom Kiefaber be included in such an inspection, because of his intimate knowledge of the building and systems was also taken.

Quick rundown of changes proposed by Alex Castro and Joe Adamczyk on behalf of Senator Theatre, LLC (James “Buzz” Cusack and Kathleen Cusack – renters/operators of The Charles Theatre & expected to be likewise at The Senator):

  • The crepe shop is now slated to occupy what is currently (largely) office & storage space. It is no longer destined for the ladies’ areas.
  • The mens’ lounge, while largely preserved would lose significant space as the north wall is proposed to be moved southward about 4ft to accommodate the revised crepe shop location.
    Part of the concern here is that the lounge is within CHAP’s protected areas & the lounge would appear as more of a hallway than a lounge. Either way, the star & moon in the mosaic floor is expected to survive.
  • No new passageways from the rotunda… Restoration was the word of the day for that area (And overall for that matter – for which I am thankful to hear!).
    Tom Kiefaber noted to the committee that an expert inspected the mural recently & suggested that the resulting suggestions for expert restoration be considered.
  • Two new storage closets to be placed against the auditorium’s back wall, right below the mezzanine level’s skyboxes.
  • The proposed Tapas restaurant facade is currently proposed to be 8ft closer to York Rd. “Further study” of this proposed extension was added as a condition to passage.
    It also raised concern about commemorative sidewalk blocks that would be affected. The committee agreed that relocation of the blocks (or alternate plan to save them) be a condition of approval.
  • A 2nd auditorium on the south side with stadium seating is now a ‘front-burner’ plan.

I hope to scan & post the handout we received at the end of the hearing that shows some additional views of the proposed additions/changes. In the meantime, the pre-meeting copy is here (PDF).

Thanks to CHAP chair Mr. Donald Kann and all of the commissioners who were present (I thought the two newest commissioners were especially on the ball, Ms. Anath Ranon and Mr. Tom Liebel).

My thanks to all of the CHAP staff, particularly Ms. Kathleen Kotarba and Mr. Eddie Leon for their cooperation and help in keeping me informed and answering my never-ending volleys of questions.

-Tom Harris

Related mass media reports:

SENATOR Theatre: Standing Ovations Salute Kiefaber on His Last Night

TK 8pm standing ovation

Kiefaber receives extended standing ovation standing-room-only crowd

Both the near capacity crowd for the 4:30pm screening of Star Wars: A New Hope and the standing-room only 8pm show saluted former owner Tom Kiefaber for his family’s 71 years of operation and his personal dedication to keeping the historic theatre going for over two decades.

The evening also capped off a Friends of The Senator volunteers’ 16-month stint as Kiefaber’s theatre support staff.

Judging by the crowd reaction during and after the screenings all felt that this chapter was being closed on a positive note with “A New Hope” for the future of the landmark theatre.

Here’s to hoping the lights are back on and the doors open in short order, because knowing the theatre was going dark at the end was a concern repeated by many attendees on an otherwise celebratory night.

More photographs: http://johnwairephoto.com/blog/2010/07/21/the-end-of-an-era (John Waire)

Senator Theatre RFP: Kiefaber defies hush clause. Joins FOTS in “BDC is rife with fraud & collusion”

BDC

Fraud, Collusion, Deceit

Former Senator Theatre owner Tom Kiefaber defies City Hall’s hush clause

Joins Friends of The Senator to declare BDC is rife with fraud and collusion

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Baltimore, MD
July 16th, 2010

Friends of The Senator (FOTS) announced today that the 2100+ member advocacy group has denounced the Baltimore Development Corporation’s (BDC) manipulation of The Senator Theatre’s acquisition at auction on behalf of the City, and its subsequent RFP plan for the Senator Theatre, as a corrupt process rife throughout with collusion, fraud, and deceit.

The advocacy group has repeatedly implored Mayor Rawlings-Blake to investigate the allegations, based on the results of the FOTS investigative research, provided to her and her staff…

Complete text at http://www.thepeoplestheatre.us/news.html