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


Auction Countdown: 5 Days – See RASHOMON now!

Senator-color-adThis weekend could be your last, best chance to see a movie at one of the “10 Best Movie Theaters In America” (by Moving Pictures Magazine), The Senator Theatre!

Barring any last minute saviour, the last historic single-screen movie house in Baltimore City will be auctioned off next Wednesday (July 22) at 11:00 AM.

While dismissing the viability of transitioning the theatre to non-profit ownership, city official have tried to reassure the community that things will turn out fine – We all desperately hope that means better faring than the historic Mayfair Theatre (whose roof collapsed under the city’s ownership).

So, make plans now to visit The Senator Theatre for a real big screen treat:

Akira Kurosawas restored Rashomon

Akira Kurosawa's restored Rashomon

A digitally restored 35mm print of
Legendary Filmmaker
Akira Kurosawa’s

delivered onto the silver screen
by professional projectionist, Bill Hewitt!

“Brimming with action while incisively examining the nature of truth, Rashomon is perhaps the finest film ever to investigate the philosophy of justice. Through an ingenious use of camera and flashbacks, Kurosawa reveals the complexities of human nature…” Toshiro Mifune gives another commanding performance in the eloquent masterwork that revolutionized film language and introduced Japanese cinema to the world.” – Criterion

“Rashomon (1950) struck theworld of film like a thunderbolt.”
Roger Ebert – Chicago Sun Times

onathan Rosenbaum – Chicago Reader
Bosley Crowther – New York Times
Roger Ebert – Chicago Sun-Times
Variety Staff – Variety

$8 Admission

See for current showtimes!

City’s “Strategy Group” decides non-profit will not work

wypr_radioToday’s “Midday with Dan Rodericks” has brought to light that a letter to Deputy Mayor Andrew Frank, dated March 31, 2009, in which the Strategy Group (formerly referred to as ‘steering committee’) state:

  • The Senator could not survive as a non-profit organization without an annual government subsidy.

    My question to Deputy Mayor Frank was, how is it that The Patterson’s Creative Alliance can? Unfortunately, he left the show before the question was pulled.
    Balto. Sun, A theatre is a part of the city worth saving

    Councilman Bill Henry, a member of the Strategy Group, e-mailed in to say that the Creative Alliance received “millions” from the federal government for capital improvements, which The Senator cannot expect.

  • Option 1: Baltimore City purchase the theatre by foreclosing on their loan, paying off 1st Mariner and then finding a management organization to run the theatre, still as a 1st run movie house.
  • Option 2: Allow 1st Mariner’s foreclosure to proceed and plan to “work closely” with whomever wins the bid.
    Even they admit that they’d have limited say with this option.

Tom Kiefaber restated that he is “ready to move on”, but insists the community needs the theatre to remain open.

He also reiterated that the multipurpose entertainment model (rather than first run movie) programming is the way to go, for whomever ends up running the theatre.

Sean Brescia of Clearpath Management said that all options are still on the table, including the possibility of filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Watch WYPR’s podcast page for a recording of the show.


Baltimore City’s Strategy Group Letter (added Apr. 4, 2009)

Baltimore Sun: Task force recommends city buy Senator Theatre

O’Malley Passes the buck, as does DBED, etc.

While we’re on the subject of politicians and what appears to be their, “I don’t want to get involved” stance on The Senator’s situation, let me share another response. This one from Maryland’s top executive… Or rather, should have been.

Maryland Governor (& former Baltimore Mayor) Martin OMalley

Maryland Governor (& former Baltimore Mayor) Martin O'Malley

I wrote a letter to Maryland’s Governor Martin O’Malley regarding The Senator and asked for his aid in helping the “community-owned non-profit, multi-purpose entertainment & educational” vision move forward.

One would think that the former mayor of Baltimore City, home of The Senator Theatre, would be more than willing to step up and at least vocalize support for the theatre and all the good it has done for community and business in the area.

Especially when the area includes Belvedere Square, a an area across the street from the theatre that stood dormant for more than a decade and O’Malley himself called, “a stark symbol of decline”.

An area that was revitalized with city and state funding that Mayor O’Malley backed (with urging from the community, including Senator staff) and even got in a bit of hot water trying to convince citizens to patronize.

Christian Johansson, Secretary, Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development

Christian Johansson, Secretary, Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development

Instead, what I received was a letter from Christian Johansson, the Secretary of Maryland’s Department of Business & Economic Development (DBED), in which I am thanked for contacting the governor and am told what an iconic treasure The Senator is.

Hannah Bryon, Assistant Secretary; Tourism, Film & the Arts

Hannah Bryon, Assistant Secretary; Tourism, Film & the Arts

I am then referred to a Ms. Hannah Byron of the Division of Tourism, Film and the Arts, who is representing DBED on Mayor Sheila Dixon’s steering committee that is charged with determining the viability of the theatre as a non-profit.

Okay, so I send a series of questions to Ms. Byron via email and shortly receive a response!

I am forwarding your questions to Bill Henry.

That’s it.

Bill Henry, Balto. City District 4 Councilman

Bill Henry, Balto. City District 4 Councilman

I’m not kidding here. District 4 Councilman Bill Henry. The man who told supporters present at the March 16 Town Meeting (called by the SCT) to contact their state officials and ask why they haven’t gotten involved.

Well, Bill, I went “straight to the top” of Maryland state government and after one letter and one email I’ve been sent down the political sliding board, right back to you. Any other suggestions?

To other supporters: Have you received responses from state or local officials? If you have and you would like to share them with others, send them to me and I’ll post them on the Politician’s Responses to Senator Plight page. Or, if you’ve put them online already, just send me the link!