SENATOR Theatre management posts results of historic paint finishes & murals

Evergreene Architectural Arts (http://www.evergreene.com/) was commissioned to perform an “examination of the historic finishes of the theater to inform the decision making process for the upcoming restoration project there.”

Excerpts:

The study was limited to the creation of exposure windows in selected areas of the theater and collection of samples for microscopic examination of colors and decorative techniques on the interior and select areas of the exterior.

Auditorium Ceiling original finishes revealed

Original auditorium ceiling finishes revealed

The Senator Theatre still contains ample evidence of its original highly decorative art deco character.
The limited examination of the decorative interior provides a tantalizing view of the rich detail of
painted and gilded finishes once adorning the interior surfaces. The original palette found in the
Senator featured a varied and rich range of colors not found in the current or any of the campaigns
secondary to the original conception of the interior. The exterior, while not heavily decorated, was in
fact painted a richer and more characteristically art deco palette than the current scheme, which, if
reinstated, will help return the theater to a more characteristic deco feel.

For the full report (PDF), head over to thesenatortheatre.com’s Renovations blog, which includes specific recommendations and an additional analysis of the theatre’s murals and conservation recommendations.

Rotunda mural clown

Rotunda mural clown

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SENATOR Theatre RFP: Mayor wants “a period on that” while ignoring the real issues

WYPR - Midday with Dan Rodricks with Mayor Rawlings-BlakeAs stated by Dan Rodricks yesterday on WYPR’s Midday radio show, Baltimore City’s Mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has had to face a $121 million budget shortfall, problems  with a $65 million pension system for the city’s first responders and an $870,000 lawsuit settlement (dealing with zero tolerance police issues under then Mayor Martin O’Malley).

To deal with with these issues citizens and visitors face increased taxes and fees, while city employees face layoffs.

This kind of economic crunch is not just a problem in Baltimore, to be sure. But, given all this we have to question, more than ever, the administration’s wisdom regarding the historic Senator Theatre’s future.

  • On at least three occasions the input of historic theatre redevelopment experts have been refused and/or completely ignored – twice by the BDC and once by the mayor’s office!
  • The plan to be approved returns The Senator Theatre to a proven failed programming format. The same that many pointed to as leading to the theatre’s foreclosure last year: first run movies
  • On top of the nearly $1 million already invested by Baltimore City to acquire The Senator at foreclosure, the “winning” plan is expected to request in upwards of $1 million in additional taxpayer moneyall going to a private business, not a non-profit.
    A bargain for sure for the Cusack’s, but a significant financial risk for Baltimore City!

We’ve advocated for over a year (and it should be noted that Mr. Kiefaber, former owner of the theatre, even longer) that The Senator’s best chance to return to its role as an economic engine for North Baltimore is to be handed over to a non-profit organization who can raise funds (from more sources available than private business), can draw on expertise to operate this internationally recognized landmark as a multipurpose venue with a variety of programming that will bring a wider, diversified audience to the area.

Keeping that all this in mind, consider the following exchange between WYPR’s Midday host, Dan Rodricks and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake from yesterday’s program (FOTS Editors’ notes have been entered at key points):

Rodricks: Here’s another question about economic development from Laura:

“The Baltimore Development Corporation recently announced that you approved the agency’s selection of The Charles Theatre operator to take over The Senator Theatre. Do you in fact endorse that plan of action? If so, how do you justify the taxpayer’s investment of a million dollars, so far, in acquiring this historic venue?”
[Ed. note: We now know that the second half of this question was not even presented, because it asked about the additional taxpayer funding the plan expects to receive]

Baltimore City Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake

Baltimore City Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake:

“I don’t know in my time on the council…to being Mayor, there’s been an economic development project that  I have received more emails about than The Senator Theatre. It was a very complete process.
[Ed. note:  To the contrary. Expert input was ignored several times, even by the mayor’s senior staff!]
It was a transparent, open process.
[Ed: Records used by the BDC have not been released to the public, because it would prove they ignored expert input and questions concerning Robert Embry and Jay Brodie’s meeting with Towson University’s president just before WTMD withdrew from contention.
Additionally, the mayor’s office ignored a free consultation offered by an award-winning historic theatre redevelopment expert! FOTS leaders personally provided the contact information to the mayor and her senior staff in a face-to-face meeting  in early May where we were assured they would take advantage of the offer before making a decision]

“Uhm, Mr. Cusack had the winning proposal and we’re moving forward.
[Ed: Incorrect. His was the last remaining proposal – there is a huge difference! At that point, on our opinion, the RFP should have been restarted. Not only because we should not settle for “what’s left”, but because the plan did not stand up to expert scrutiny!]

I think there are so many people who have an emotional attachment and uh, are probably friendly with Mr. Kiefaber and want him to keep it no matter what.
[Ed: Yes. Because they care about The Senator and its future in the community. Any friendship with the former owner is irrelevant and was not our message. Nor was it from the hundreds we heard from who sent the emails. The overall driving message was that hands-on historical redevelopment expertise should be utilized to guide the whole process!]

But, that’s just not possible and we’ve certainly, uh,  danced that dance under very many administrations and now, you know, you and I talked about putting a period at that law suit, we’re putting a period on that relationship and moving forward. And I’m very encouraged.”
[Ed: Putting “a period” on the relationship with Kiefaber is not the point.
We sincerely wish officials AND the media stop making Kiefaber the crux of the argument! Focus on the TRUE issue: The viable, sustainable future of The Senator Theatre and what it could mean to the North Baltimore community!]

Rodricks: With all those emails you mentioned, did anyone express lack of support investing in The Senator?

Mayor: Mmmm…

Rodricks: Or was most of the mail suggestions on who should be running it? How it should be operated?
[Ed: Yes, indeed, many did, particularly those from FOTS members! Non-profit, multipurpose, arts, education, entertainment (including, but not exclusively movies)…]

Mayor: Suggestions on how to keep mr. Kiefaber there.
[Ed: Have to admit here our patience with this nonsense is really tested]

Rodricks: In place.

Mayor: Right, Yeah.

Sorry madam mayor. Either you weren’t given all of the incoming emails or we have to think that you are not truly representing the sentiments of the vast majority that were sent in.

The bottom line is that this issue is not about keeping Tom Kiefaber in The Senator Theatre.
The issues ARE about accountability of government (and pseudo-government) officials and transparency to the public in their dealings. Especially when spending taxpayer money on deals that are not in the best interest of those taxpayers.

Listen to the show for yourself: WYPR’s Midday with Dan Rodricks – June 28, 2010

SENATOR Theatre RFP: BDC denies FOTS request to release theatre expert’s response

FOTS has been advocating for more than a year that a successful future for The Senator required heeding the advice of historic theatre redevelopment experts, like John Lind of Venuetech. When FOTS was invited to send a representative to the BDC Advisory Panel we were optimistic that the BDC had taken this to heart and the process would include hands-on guidance from such experts.

However, FOTS representative, Laura Perkins soon found that while the BDC eventually did reach out to the League of  Historic American Theatres (LHAT) for input, it was only to send a brief list of questions to two members, not ask for interactive, hands-on participation.

Yes, TWO LHAT experts… This does not include historic building rehab expert Marty Azola.

One is John Bell, CEO of Florida’s famed historic Tampa Theatre whose responses to questions posed by the BDC (via email) were answered and distributed to Advisory Panel members. It is our understanding that Mr. Bell was never allowed to review the proposals, but had very definite opinions about what works and does not work when it comes to historic theatres like The Senator. But, what were Bell’s opinions?

Tom Harris, FOTS president, requested the release of John Bell’s expert assessment of the only remaining RFP on the table. He noted that it would be understood if references to respondents’ financial data, if any were present, would first have to be removed. However, the BDC leadership still denied this request for reasons of “confidentiality”.

Appearances are then, at the BDC secrecy for a specific purpose is termed “confidentiality”.

The responses from the second as yet unnamed LHAT board member (which we only recently learned existed) apparently were NEVER given to the Advisory Panel members. Our understanding is that these included evaluations so scathing in their professional feasibility assessments that BDC leaders decided not to share them with the panel.

Balto. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake

It is therefore FOTS opinion that witholding expert input from the panel and, moreover, from the public displays alarming violations of proper procedure, transparency and the public trust in a situation where over a million dollars of taxpayer funds have been invested thus far. More examples of how The Senator RFP process is in shambles and why it is imperative that Mayor Rawlings-Blake’s administration steps in immediately.

Stay tuned as the situation evolves.

SENATOR Theatre RFP: Baltimore Heritage, Inc. Echoes Call for Experts in Letter to Mayor Rawlings-Blake

Adam Meister has broken news that a letter signed by Baltimore Heritage‘s Executive Director, Johns Hopkins, has been sent to Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

In the letter, dated March 11, 2010, Mr. Hopkins states:

The Senator Theatre is a recent example of where the lack of preservation perspective is ham-stringing the BDC. Letters to you from the Theatre Historical Society of America and the Friends of The Senator Theatre request that the city add someone with experience in redeveloping historic theatres to the review panel that will decide on the competing proposals. We support these requests and concur that someone with preservation and historic theatre experience is a necessary component to review proposals for this historic landmark.

It further explains that previous BDC projects such as the West Side “Superblock” development has suffered from a similar lack of expertise:

The Superblock is another ongoing example of where the BDC would benefit from having a board member with historic preservation experience. For too long this critical area downtown has languished as proposals have ignored the preservation requirements for the site and its redevelopment potential based on preserving the historic buildings.

We encourage everyone interested to read the entire letter (PDF format), click the following link: http://888mail.net/glory/heritage_letter.pdf

We also encourage everyone to join the growing call on City Hall to ensure that the decision regarding our internationally recognized historic landmark is properly evaluated by (appropriate experts) and transparent one.
Add your voice by contacting the Office of The Mayor yourself!

Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Mayor
City Hall, Room 250
100 N. Holliday Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21202
Phone (410) 396-3835
Fax (410) 576-9425
Email the Mayor
or
use our ready-made form letter!

SENATOR Theatre RFP: Theatre Historical Society Rep’s Letter to Mayor Rawlings-Blake

On the heels of our letters to Baltimore City Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, another of the BDC’s Senator Advisory Panel members has also written the mayor.

Below is a copy of the letter, written by Karen Colizzi Noonan, President of the Theatre Historical Society of America.

February 27, 2010

Honorable Stephanie Rawlings-Blake
Mayor, City of Baltimore
100 N. Holliday Street Room 250
Baltimore, Maryland 21202

Dear Mayor Rawlings-Blake:

As President of Theatre Historical Society of America, I write to you today to convey my unconditional support for the careful and considered reuse of the Senator Theatre, one of America’s most recognizable historic theaters.

Further, I implore you as a matter of responsible stewardship, to include an experienced, knowledgeable historic preservation expert with specific expertise in theater preservation, on the BDC panel charged with deciding the Senator’s future.

The BDC has already reached out to the League of Historic American Theaters, located in Baltimore, to supply written input. It is imperative that such an expert physically sits on the commission and has the opportunity to give on-going guidance and consultation as part of the deliberations.

The Senator’s storied façade is revered nationally and internationally as an icon of Art Deco design in general and theater architectural history specifically. The Senator’s inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places demands that those responsible for its care take every step within their power to protect the integrity, viability and historic nature of the structure.

Your administration has a small window of opportunity to create a safe environment for the Senator’s to flourish in the decades to come. The eyes of the Preservation Community are on Baltimore as this historic decision is made. Please feel free to call on Theatre Historical Society or me for assistance at any time.

Respectfully,

Karen Colizzi Noonan
President, Theatre Historical Society of America

Indifference to history is more than just ignorance;
it is a form of ingratitude.
– David McCullough