Baltimore Westside Superblock Developers Granted 3rd Extension Despite Ignoring Preservation Agreement

Baltimore Brew‘s  reports that the City BOE has granted a four month extension to the controversial West Side project, allowing more time to complete their financing and search for tenants, after M.J. Brodie  of the Baltimore Development Corporation (BDC) stated headway was being made.  On the other hand it appears they ignored Johns Hopkins, executive director of the historic preservation group, Baltimore Heritage who says the “Superblock” developers have not been honoring an agreement on historic preservation.

Considering the recent concerns over the current condition of The Senator Theatre, the portion of the article regarding the planned restoration of Read’s Drug Store, the site of a 1955 Civil Rights sit-in, may be most interesting – and worrisome:

Separately, the city said it would proceed with installing a temporary roof on the Read’s building, whose interior timber framing has partially collapsed from years of water leakage.

The roof, however, is not expected to be installed until late spring or early summer, leading CHAP commissioner Larry Gibson to wonder whether the building itself might fall down. “Demolition by neglect is a specialty in this city,” he said.

An engineering consultant said that was unlikely because the steel beams and exterior masonry walls appeared to be in satisfactory condition. The temporary roof on the city-owned building would cost about $550,000.

Although the engineering consultant makes it sound like demolition is unlikely, it’s hard to ignore that the neglect led to Read’s roof collapse and it’s much more costly to reconstruct as opposed to preventative maintenance/repairs, especially when you’re talking about proper restoration to an historic structure.

The Senator Theatre, Dec. 12, 2011So, while it’s hoped that the City and The Senator’s current operators will see the wisdom of making an honest and visible effort to reverse the effects of deferred maintenance, once again, I encourage those who understand the significance of the internationally recognized Senator Theatre, the last historic, operational movie house in Baltimore City, to sign this online petition:

Let those in control that it’s not just a handful of “historic theatre nuts” (or “sore losers” as some of us have been labeled) who are disappointed with the year-long decline which can no longer be ignored. Former mayor/governor/state comptroller understood the importance of history and our historic buildings. Now the rest of us need to stand up, for the Senator and for Baltimore’s historic Westside.

-Tom Harris


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

Senator Conway’s Senator Theatre Meeting Reveals Bottom Line

[Updated May, 22: video clip added]

We’d like to thank all of the Maryland state and Baltimore city officials who actually came out to the meeting last night to answer questions about The Senator Theatre mess.

We especially thank Maryland Senator Joan Carter Conway for calling the meeting to help the community sort it out.

We encourage folks to read Astrogirl’s take on the overall meeting, but we’d like to convey what we saw as the bottom line, publicly brought to light last night, thanks to a question posed by Kathleen Harris to Tom Kiefaber about the meddling of Baltimore City’s Commission for Historic & Architectural Preservation (CHAP).

Mrs. Harris stood up and asked Mr. Kiefaber, if CHAP had kept their nose out of The Senator could all of this mess with Baltimore City, the State of Maryland and 1st Mariner been avoided?

The short answer: YES.

Because, as stated before, Mr. Kiefaber was already in negotiations with parties interested in purchasing the theatre (and keeping it as a theatre) when CHAP announced their intentions to impose their unprecedented controls on the interior of the theatre.

Within 24 hours of the CHAP announcement negotiations broke down, because the parties saw this move by the city as a sign that the city (or someone talking to the city) already had plans for the building/property and they weren’t welcome.

Even Kim Clark of the BDC (present as a city representative) stated,

“We thought the CHAP designation was unnecessary and ill timed”.

See/hear for yourself in this video shot by Astrogirl

So there you have it.

The city group meddled, not only without consulting with the current owner, but actually against his wishes and not once, but TWICE. BOTH times scuttling negotiations!

Which is why now the city now must:

  • Use $950,000 ($600,000 collateral already held for the 1st Mariner mortgage & $350,000 from the city’s Economic Development fund) to buy the 1st Mariner mortgage note
  • Take time/spend money to set up & widely advertise their own foreclosure auction.
    At which we hope a theatre-friendly individual/group will outbid the city. If not…
  • Have the Baltimore Development Corporation (BDC) spend time/money drawing up an RFP to try and find a buyer (or an operator who is willing to lease the theatre)

Sounds like an awful lot to have to go through (and a lot of money spent) when you consider none of it was probably necessary…

Had CHAP left alone (at least until we knew who the next owner would be).